I have 2 stories to share today. In case you didn’t know, today in 1947 Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. First, here’s the story behind it as related by Red Barber, the great announcer.
Note: There is one word that is offensive if used today. Red was telling the story as it happened at that time.
“In March of 1945, Mr. Rickey told me in confidence that only the board of directors of the ball club knew and only his family knew, and now I was going to know that he was going to bring a black player to the white [Brooklyn] Dodgers.
And Mr. Rickey said that going back to when he was the baseball coach at Ohio Wesleyan University, he took the team to play a series down at South Bend, Indiana with Notre Dame, and he said, “My best player was my catcher, and he was black. But,” said Mr. Rickey, “when we were registering the squad in the hotel, when the black player stepped up to sign the register, the clerk jerked the register back and said. ‘We don’t register niggers in this hotel.’” And Rickey remonstrated and said, “This is the baseball team from Ohio Wesleyan. We’re the guests of Notre Dame University.” He said, “I don’t care who you are. We don’t register niggers in this hotel.” Well,” Mr. Rickey said, “there are two beds in my room, aren’t there?’ And he said, “Yes.” “Well,” he says, “can’t he use one bed and not register?”
The clerk grudgingly allowed that to happen and Mr. Rickey took the key, handed it to the black player, and said, “You go up to the room and wait for me. Soon as I get the rest of the team settled, I’ll be up.”
Mr. Rickey said, “When I opened the door, here was this fine young man, sitting on the edge of his chair, and he was crying. And he was pulling at his hands, and he said, ‘Mr. Rickey, it’s my skin. If I could just tear it off, I’d be like everyone else.’”
And Mr. Rickey told me this day in March of 1945, he said, “In all these years I have heard that boy crying. And now,” he said, “I’m going to do something about it.” Red Barber, sports broadcaster”
(From “Inning 6: The National Pastime, 1940-1950”) Ken Burns Baseball)
Rickey had made huge contributions to baseball. Scouting, Minor Leagues, spring training, and numerous others. He could have rested on his accomplishments, but chose not to. He chose to fight. He had one last battle inside him and was determined to do it. I think you see the parallel here.
Life happens to us every day, and most days of our lives, in fact very few, will be moments that propel us into action. Moments that jump off the timelines of our life. The moments we were born for.
That was September 11, 2008 for me. When I heard that dispatcher tell me that she had not had anyone call in just to thank a cop for being there in over 10 years of work, that moment jumped off my timeline. So it’s become my mission to reach out to cops and firefighters and say “You ARE appreciated. You DO matter.” I can’t do alot. But I can do something.
What moment is significant in your life? What were you born to do?
Here’s a retelling of a story that Jackie reflected on much later. I don’t have the details, but if some of my baseball friends can fill in the blanks, let me know!
Jackie Robinson made history when he became the first black baseball player to break into the major leagues by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. Branch Rickey, owner of the Dodgers at that time, told Robinson, “It’ll be tough. You’re going to take abuse you never dreamed of. But if you’re willing to try, I’ll back you all the way.”
And Rickey was right. Jackie was abused verbally (not to mention physically by runners coming into second base). Racial slurs from the crowd and members of his own team, as well as from opponents, were standard fare.
One day, Robinson was having it particularly tough. He had booted two ground balls, and the boos were cascading over the diamond. In full view of thousands of spectators, Pee Wee Reese, the team captain and Dodger shortstop, walked over and put his arm around Jackie right in the middle of the game.
“That may have saved my career,” Robinson reflected later. “Pee Wee made me feel that I Belonged.”
The Bible admonishes us “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” But sometimes that’s easier said than done. Pee Wee Reese offered support at a time in Jackie’s life that was crucial. I think most of us have had that person in our lives. The question is how to we be Pee Wee Reese for someone else? What can we do to make things better?