A daily accumulation of history and present as I follow the 2011 year through the baseball season and reflect on the glories and disappointments of the greatest game on Earth.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Jackie Robinson

64 years ago today, Jackie began to make all of the bad stuff go away. It didn't vanish over night, and he didn't do it alone, but on his shoulders, a huge weight was dumped, and with the help of Branch Rickey being willing to take a chance where no other man before him ever could, he made it count. For 3 years, he held his tongue. The biting killed this strong, but proud man within 25 years, but had it not been for his sacrifice, where would any of us be today?
Jackie did it before MLK Jr. and Malcolm X. He did it with non-violence like King, and he did it with the sense that all he wanted was a chance, pass or fail, and he did it without responding in racist kind like Malcolm X.
Jackie did it before the Civil Rights laws of the mid 1960s. He did it before America got all giddy about Obama saying yes we can because if it wasn't for Jackie, there would be nothing to do.
There would have been no Michael Jordan without Jackie Robinson. Instead, we'd still be in the era of tiny basketball shorts and a very sedate game - nothing like the era that would create Jordan - the outstretched arm of Julius Erving slamming one home with afro extended in a new style for a new time.
There wouldn't be Muhammad Ali trash talking his opponents while having the guts to lose his whole sports participation for his stand on Vietnam.
There wouldn't have been Jim Brown or Arthur Ashe. There wouldn't have been the Williams sisters or Tiger Woods.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos wouldn't have raised their fists skyward in the Olympics if not for the work of guys like Robinson (and Joe Louis and Jesse Owens). Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Frank Robinson wouldn't be in ourhallowed halls of all time great baseball players if not for Jackie Robinson's trailblazing suffering. In fact, Aaron might have finished his life as a caricature of himself while playing an Indianapolis Clown his whole life. Whatever we would and wouldn't have, we certainly wouldn't remember Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson the same way if Jackie Robinson hadn't made it to the major leagues instead of both of them. Walter Payton wouldn't have set rushing records and Wilt Chamberlain wouldn't have scored more points in a game than some teams do in the modern NBA. Had Jackie Robinson not suffered the onslaught of endless hordes of racist players, owners, and fans, Curt Flood would have never been able to be "well paid" in his time of segregation and mistreatment at the hands of Major League Baseball.
We'd be missing a lot of great athletes, entertainers, and politicians that have added to the accomplishments of the world, for better and for worse, but who were who they were because they had a chance - instead of being excluded in racist bullshit.
And last night, we wouldn't have had a celebration for Ryan Howard, a man who in spite of his many swings and misses (less this season so far) is a pillar of class and respect and love for the game. And while the Reading Phillies might have lost their home opener 5-0 after 7 really good 0-0 innings, it was the little figures and the 500-pound life size garden gnome that brought the fans out and kept them there for 7 innings of defensive and pitching greatness - 13 strikeouts by Akron and 12 more by Reading.
We might diss on him for the money he makes and what he doesn't do, but the fans love him. They love him a whole lot - at the time of writing this, there are several bids for his garden gnome that was given away (3500 of them in total) that are almost $50 after less than 1 full day.
And maybe it's because we're making bank on the figure, but frankly, it's amazing to see the love and desire that the figure is commanding. Last year, it was considered the best Minor League promotion of the year, and it went for over $100 in some cases on Ebay. This year, it stands to do just as well.
And for that, we have nothing but kudos to Mr. Howard for being who he is, but frankly, he owes a great debt to Jackie Robinson - especially on this day.
And for that, we feel a little tinge of soul with the greatest hits of Stax Records playing behind us... contemplating the legacy of all of those great people of color who got to be because Jackie hit a ball and scared the hell out of opposing pitchers while taking long leads off of bases.
Like James Brown said, "I've got soul... I'm superbad."
And so was Jackie.
In his words:
"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
Look at all those people who Jackie inspired.
"The right of every American to first-class citizenship is the most important issue of our time."
Look at all those people who owe our eternal respects to this man.
"The way I figured it, I was even with baseball and baseball with me. The game had done much for me, and I had done much for it."
In the words of Buck O' Neil and Hank Aaron... much better than I could say it.
Rest in peace, Jackie Robinson - my hero, numero uno.

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