“I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin’ 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.” Short speech by Leo “the lip” Durocher, manager of the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, letting his team know that Jackie Robinson was in the “Bigs” to stay…with or without them.
April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to break the major league baseball “color line” since 1880. Normally a middle infielder, he started at first base that day because of All Stars Eddie Stanky playing second and Pee Wee Reese playing shortstop. While not getting a hit he did walk and scored a run. Facing ALMOST universal racial prejudice, Jackie finished his initial season hitting .297 in one hundred and fifty-one games.
I was too young to care much about Jackie Robinson the player and his trials and tribulations. Much later, the old newsreel films I watched incessantly proved him worthy of six all-star appearances and a league MVP award. Today I celebrate the manner in which he revolutionized the game and the trail he blazed for the stars of my own youth and for those who followed. I cannot fathom what baseball might have been like without the likes of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Ozzie Smith…you get the idea. Today I am also aware of his many trials and tribulations.
When I said almost universal prejudice there were a few opposing players and teammates who came to Robinson’s defense. One who did became one of my all-time favorites as a broadcaster. He was Robinson’s former teammate and Dizzy Dean’s “Little Partner” Pee Wee Reese. Many of my youthful Saturdays were spent sitting with my father watching the CBS Game of the Week with Dizzy and Ree Wee bring the play-by-play. During the trailblazing 1947 season Reese was quoted as saying, “You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them.” Pretty profound for a white guy from Kentucky in 1947. During the Dodgers first road trip as Robinson was being heckled during pre-game infield, Reese, the captain of the team, went over to Robinson, engaged him in conversation, and put his arm around his shoulder in a gesture of support which silenced the crowd. An eight foot bronze statue located at the Brooklyn Cyclones’ stadium commemorates that moment. A plaque states:
“This monument honors Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese: teammates, friends, and men of courage and conviction. Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Reese supported him, and together they made history. In May 1947, on Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, Robinson endured racist taunts, jeers, and death threats that would have broken the spirit of a lesser man. Reese, captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, walked over to his teammate Robinson and stood by his side, silencing the taunts of the crowd. This simple gesture challenged prejudice and created a powerful and enduring friendship.”
Sometimes a bit of kindness and understanding will overcome hate…a lesson we should all learn and attempt to apply.