Today is a Good Day to Remember Jackie Robinson

branch-rickey4If alive, Jackie Robinson would be celebrating his 94th birthday today. The man who broke baseball’s racial barriers has a unique place in the nation’s history.

Branch Rickey was the baseball executive who signed Robinson. I wrote about the role Rickey’s religious beliefs played in his decision to sign Robinson in 2011.

The diamond in the picture above is Branch Rickey Park in Portsmouth, Ohio, my home town. Rickey was also from the Portsmouth area.  In that Crosswalk article, I wrote:

To me, Branch Rickey’s role in this story is sweet irony. Race relations were tense in my hometown, at times erupting into violence. For most of my life there, African-Americans were segregated into neighborhoods surrounding a large public housing project. There was tangible prejudice and discrimination, even among Christians. I can recall times when my African-American friends were denied services. And yet, from this milieu, Branch Rickey emerged as a key player in a drama which has had a profound positive effect on American racial attitudes, far beyond the playing field.


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  • Mary

    I’m so glad we have made great strides in racial issues and gay issues. The ostracized individual carries a heavy burden of being shunned even when they belong to a large group. I am eagerly waiting for the next few decades to unfold.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Let’s not bury the lede, Warren. 😉

    “And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other…—Lk 6:29

    Rickey Settles On Robinson

    By mid-1945, [Dodgers General Manager] Rickey had narrowed his search and begun to focus on Robinson. He thought the young man was talented enough as an athlete and liked the fact that Robinson was educated and abstained from alcohol.

    Robinson’s temperament both attracted and worried Rickey. His refusal to buckle under to discrimination and strength of character were exactly what Rickey wanted. But Robinson’s explosive aggressiveness concerned Rickey: while it fueled his athletic performance, it also made him vulnerable to being provoked by the intense racism he was sure to experience as the first black to play in the major leagues.

    Rickey strongly believed that it would be necessary for Robinson to contain himself if the experiment was to succeed. More than a decade before Martin Luther King Jr. developed techniques of nonviolent protest as a weapon against the violence of southern racism, Rickey urged the same approach on Robinson, testing him in a now-famous exchange on August 28, 1945, at Dodgers headquarters at 215 Montague Place in Brooklyn. It was the first time they had met.

    “For three hours, Rickey harangued Robinson … graphically illustrating

    the difficulties Robinson might face. He portrayed the hostile teammate,

    the abusive opponent, the insulting fan, the obstinate hotel clerk.

    Rickey challenged the black man with racial epithets and verbally

    transplanted him into ugly confrontations. “His acting was so convincing that I

    found myself chain-gripping my fingers behind my back,” wrote Robinson.”

    “In the face of this onslaught Robinson finally responded, “Mr. Rickey,

    do you want a ballplayer who’s afraid to fight back?” [Rickey] had

    awaited this moment. “I want a player with guts enough not to fight back,”

    he roared.”

    • Tom – Thanks for that reference. I can believe Rickey knew lots of ways to provoke Robinson given our hometown environment.

  • Patrocles

    As Mary has compared race issues and gay issues, may I add that the Christian aversity against fighting back refers to gays, too. I know that gays normally have other ways of fighting back than blacks, but that isn’t relevant here (as Oscar Wilde famously said: The coward does it with a kiss, the brave man with a sword)

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Indeed. Was Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A doing the attacking or was he the one attacked?