Monday, April 14, 2008

April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day

Tomorrow marks the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson's major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Most people know the basic story about Jackie, but I think it's worthwhile to remind people that most of the baseball establishment really opposed integration. 

When the signing was announced to the public, for example, some people accused Branch Rickey, the Dodgers' GM, of simply trying to sell more tickets to the growing African-American population in Brooklyn.

Others, including Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby, claimed integration would never work because black and white ballplayers could never get along on the road.

Still others voiced their belief that blacks simply didn’t have the skill to succeed. For example, the president of the New York Yankees, Larry MacPhail, declared, “There are few, if any, Negro players who could qualify for play in the major leagues at this time.”

And others predicted Jackie himself didn’t have the skills to make it. The Sporting News wrote an editorial in which they predicted that Jackie “conceivably will discover that as a 26-year-old shortstop just off the sandlots, the waters of competition in the International League will flood far over his head.” A writer for the New York Daily News called Jackie a “1000-1 shot to make the grade.”

Of course, Robinson did succeed, beyond anyone's expectations. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1947 and an MVP in 1949, and he led his Dodgers to six pennants in his 10-year career.

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