Monday, August 08, 2016

Jackie Robinson's Career

Jackie Robinson was first in the Negro leagues. The Kansas City Monarchs sent him a written offer for him to play professional baseball in the Negro leagues. Jackie Robinson accepted. He received a contract for $400 per month. He played well for the Monarchs. His schedule was hectic. He opposed gambling. He traveled all across America and communicated with Isum (by that time his fiancee) only by letter. Robinson played 47 games at shortstop for the Monarchs. He hit in a percentage of .387 with five home runs and registering 13 stolen bases. He also appeared in the 1945 Negro League All Star Games, going hitless in five at bats. During the season, Jackie Robinson pursued potential major league interests. The Boston Red Sox had a tryout at Fenway Park for Robinson and other black players on April 16. The tryout was a fraud by the major league as a means of them to assuage the desegregationist sensibilities of the powerful Boston City Councilman Isadore Muchnick. In the stands limited to management, Robinson was called racial epithets. He left the tryout in humiliation. More than 14 years later in July of 1959, the Red Sox became the last major league team to integrate its roster. Other teams had a more serious interest in signing black ballplayers. During the mid-1940’s, Branch Rickey (club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers) started to court the Negro leagues for a possible addition to the Dodgers' roster. Rickey selected Robinson from a list of promising black players and he interviewed him for possible assignment to Brooklyn's International League farm club, the Royals. Rickey wanted to pick someone who could stand the racial abuse. In a famous 3-hour exchange on August 28, 1945, Rickey asked Jackie Robinson if he could take racial insults without responding back angrily. Robinson was aghast: "Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?" Rickey replied that he needed a Negro player "with guts enough not to fight back." After obtaining a commitment from Robinson to "turn the other cheek" to racial antagonism, Rickey agreed to sign him to a contract for $600 a month, equal to $7,887 today.

Rickey didn’t offer compensation to the Monarchs. He believed that all Negro League players were free agents due to the contracts not containing a reserve clause. Among those Rickey discussed prospects with was Wendell Smith, writer for the black weekly Pittsburgh Courier, who according to Cleveland Indians owner and team president Bill Veeck "influenced Rickey to take Jack Robinson, for which he's never completely gotten credit." Although he required Robinson to keep the arrangement a secret for the time being, Rickey committed to formally signing Robinson before November 1, 1945. On October 23, it was publicly announced that Robinson would be assigned to the Royals for the 1946 season.  On the same day, with representatives of the Royals and Dodgers present, Robinson formally signed his contract with the Royals. Jackie Robinson was the first black baseball player in the International League since the 1880’s. He was not the best player in the Negro league as Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson were legends. They wanted to be selected first.  Larry Doby, who broke the color line in the American League the same year as Robinson, said, "One of the things that was disappointing and disheartening to a lot of the black players at the time was that Jack was not the best player. The best was Josh Gibson. I think that's one of the reasons why Josh died so early – he was heartbroken." Jackie Robinson came into Pasadena, which was his home. He toured South America briefly with another barnstorming team while his fiancĂ©e Isum worked in nursing in New York City. On February 10, 1946, Robinson and Isum were married by their old friend, the Rev. Karl Downs.

First, Jackie Robinson played for the Montreal Royals of the Class AAA International League. He was in Daytona Beach, Florida for training camp. This was the highest level of the minor leagues during the 1946 season. Florida was racially charged back then. Robinson was not allowed to stay with his teammates at the team hotel. He lodged at the home of a local black politician.  In Sanford, Florida, the police chief threatened to cancel games if Robinson and Wright did not cease training activities there; as a result, Robinson was sent back to Daytona Beach. Robinson made his Royals debut at Daytona Beach's City Island Ballpark on March 17, 1946, in an exhibition game against the team's parent club, the Dodgers. Robinson thus became the first black player to openly play for a minor league team against a major league team since the de facto baseball color line had been implemented in the 1880s. Robinson shifted from shortstop to second base after mediocre performances. Later, his performance soon rebounded. On April 18, 1946, Roosevelt Stadium hosted the Jersey City Giants' season opener against the Montreal Royals, marking the professional debut of the Royals' Jackie Robinson and the first time the color barrier had been broken in a game between two minor league clubs. Pitching against Robinson was Warren Sandel who had played against him when they both lived in California. During Robinson's first at bat, the Jersey City catcher, Dick Bouknight, demanded that Sandel throw at Robinson, but Sandel refused. Although Sandel induced Robinson to ground out at his first at bat, in his five trips to the plate, Robinson ended up with four hits, including his first hit, a three-run home run, in the game's third inning. He scored four runs, drove in three, and stole 2 bases in the Royals’ 14-1 victory. Robinson proceeded to lead the International League that season with a .349 batting average and .985 fielding percentage, and he was named the league's Most Valuable Player. Although he often faced hostility while on road trips (the Royals were forced to cancel a Southern exhibition tour, for example), the Montreal fan base enthusiastically supported Robinson. Many people attended his games. More than one million people went to games involving Robinson in 1946, an amazing figure by International League standards. In the fall of 1946, following the baseball season, Robinson returned home to California and briefly played professional basketball for the short-lived Los Angeles Red Devils.

Six days before the start of the 1947 season, the Dodgers called Robinson up to the major leagues. With Eddie Stanky entrenched at second base for the Dodgers, Jackie Robinson played his initial major league season as a first baseman. On April 15, 1947, Robinson made his major league debut at the advanced age of 28 at Ebbets Fields before 26,623 spectators, including more than 14,000 black patrons.  Although he failed to get a base hit, he walked and scored a run in the Dodgers' 5–3 victory.  Robinson became the first player since 1880 to openly break the major league baseball color line. Black fans began flocking to see the Dodgers when they came to town, abandoning their Negro league teams. Many people loved him and hated him. Newspapers and players had a mixed reaction to him. The Dodger clubhouse had racial tension. Some Dodger players refused to play with him. The Dodgers management stood up for Robinson.  Manager Leo Durocher informed the team that, "I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a f____ zebra. I'm the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What's more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded.” Robinson was also derided by opposing teams. Some, notably the St. Louis Cardinals, threatened to strike if Robinson played. After the threat, National League President Ford Frick and Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler let it be known that any striking players would be suspended. Many players from opponent teams used rough play against Jackie Robinson, especially the Cardinals. He received a seven inch gash in his leg from Enos Slaughter. On April 22, 1947, during a game between the Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies, Phillies players and manager Ben Chapman called Robinson a "n____ " from their dugout and yelled that he should "go back to the cotton fields.” Rickey later recalled that Chapman "did more than anybody to unite the Dodgers. When he poured out that string of unconscionable abuse, he solidified and united thirty men." Many players sent Jackie Robinson encouragement. Jackie Robinson said that Lee “Jeep” Handley, who played for the Phillies at the time, as the first opposing player to wish him well.  Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese once came to Robinson's defense with the famous line, "You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them." In 1948, Reese put his arm around Robinson in response to fans who shouted racial slurs at Robinson before a game in Cincinnati. A statue by sculptor William Behrends, unveiled at Key Span Park on November 1, 2005, commemorates this event by representing Reese with his arm around Robinson. Jewish baseball star Hank Greenberg, who had to deal with racial epithets during his career, also encouraged Robinson. Following an incident where Greenberg collided with Robinson at first base, he "whispered a few words into Robinson's ear", which Robinson later characterized as "words of encouragement." Greenberg told him that to defeat them in games is a way to defeat the critics. Robinson talked to Larry Doby, who endured his own hardships as being the first black player in the American League with the Cleveland Indians, as the two spoke to one another via telephone throughout the season. Robinson finished the season having played in 151 games for the Dodgers, with a batting average of .297, an on-base percentage of .383, and a .427 slugging percentage. He had 175 hits (scoring 125 runs) including 31 doubles, 5 triples, and 12 home runs, driving in 48 runs for the year. Robinson led the league in sacrifice hits, with 28, and in stolen bases, with 29. His cumulative performance earned him the inaugural Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year Award (separate National and American League Rookie of the Year honors were not awarded until 1949).
In March of 1948, Jackie Robinson took over second base. Stanky was traded to the Boston Braves. He had a .980 fielding percentage that year. He has a batting average of .296 and 22 stolen bases for the season. In a 12–7 win against the St. Louis Cardinals on August 29, 1948, he hit for the cycle—a home run, a triple, a double, and a single in the same game.  The Dodgers briefly moved into first place in the National League in late August 1948, but they ultimately finished third as the Braves went on to win the league title and lose to the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. More black players entered the major leagues.

Larry Doby (who broke the color barrier in the League on July 5, 1947, just 11 weeks after Robinson) and Satchel Paige played for the Cleveland Indians, and the Dodgers had three other black players besides Robinson. In February 1948, he signed a $12,500 contract (equal to $123,113 today) with the Dodgers; while a significant amount, this was less than Robinson made in the off-season from a vaudeville tour, where he answered pre-set baseball questions, and a speaking tour of the South. He lost weight due to a right ankle injury. Hall of Famer George Sisler helped Jackie Robinson with batting techniques. His bat average increased from .296 to .342 from 1948 to 1949. In addition to his improved batting average, Robinson stole 37 bases that season, was second place in the league for both doubles and triples, and registered 124 runs batted in with 122 runs scored. For the performance Robinson earned the Most Valuable Player Award for the National League. Baseball fans also voted Robinson as the starting second baseman for the 1949 All-Star Game—the first All-Star Game to include black players.  He lost the 1949 World Series to the Yankees. In the Summer of 1949, Jackie Robinson testified to the House over Communism. Paul Robeson, an activist and athlete, made comments. The HAUC wanted Robinson to testify and he did. Robinson regretted the remarks that he made about Robeson as he later said that Robeson had the right to believe in what he wanted to. The 1950 Jackie Robinson Story was a famous biography about his life which starred himself. Ruby Dee played Rachel. In 1955, the Dodgers defeated the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series. Jackie Robinson was 37 years old and at the end of his career. In 1956, he retired from baseball. He started to show effects of diabetes. He announced his retirement decision through the Look magazine. He brought an end to about 60 years of segregation in professional baseball. He inspired black athletes decades into the future and athletes in general. In his first year of eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, Robinson encouraged voters to consider only his on-field qualifications, rather than his cultural impact on the game. He was elected on the first ballot, becoming the first black player inducted into the Cooperstown museum.

By Timothy

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