Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball
New Book Chronicles Breaking of the Major League Color Barrier
Listen to Bob Edwards discuss the book with Scott Simon.
Read an excerpt from the book.
Jackie Robinson in an undated photo.
Photo: National Archives
"Jackie Robinson gave his life for something great;
heroes do. He chose to bear the daily, bloody trial of
standing up to beanballs and cleats launched into his
shins, chest, and chin, and the race-baiting taunts raining
down from the stands, along with trash, tomatoes, rocks,
watermelon slices, and Sambo dolls. And then he performed
with eloquent achievement and superlative poise."
Scott Simon, in Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball
Read a longer excerpt from the book
Jackie Robinson on the back cover of a 1951 comic book.
Photo: Library of Congress
Oct. 10, 2002 -- Jackie Robinson wasn't the first African American in major league baseball. Blacks played in the majors before the league banned them in 1887.
But by 1947, when Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey called upon Robinson to join his team, the time was right for blacks to play in the majors once again, says NPR's Scott Simon, who has just written a book on the baseball legend, Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball.
Blacks helped America win World War II, and the nation discovered it "couldn't fight a war for freedom in the name of the world and maintain segregation here at home," Simon tells Morning Edition's Bob Edwards.
Besides, Simon adds, "somebody had to beat the Yankees."
"The Yankees were winning year after year after year and the largest source of unscouted baseball talent were the Negro Leagues," he says. "There was always the feeling that the baseball owner or general manager who had the nerve to bring in top Negro League stars could win a few pennants."
Rickey considered other players from the Negro Leagues. Satchel Page, the biggest draw and highest-paid player in baseball at the time, was considered too old, Simon says. Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella could have come in at the same time as Robinson.
"But Rickey was convinced that the team would rally behind a single African-American ballplayer who would have the nerve and the gumption to stand the gaff," Simon says.
When Rickey brought Robinson into his office in 1945, he had to see whether Robinson could stand up to the inevitable taunts, pressure and death threats that would come. Rickey played the role of "every foul-mouth, low-life, bigoted rube that he had ever half overheard at a sporting event..." Simon says. He got in Robinson's face and took a swing at him, but missed.
"But Branch Rickey made his point: 'You're going to have to put up with this kind of talk.' And Jackie Robinson said, 'Well, Mr. Rickey, do you want a player who doesn't have the guts to fight back?' And that's when Branch Rickey delivered his greatest line: 'Jackie, how about a ballplayer with the guts not to fight back?'"
Simon says Rickey "took Robinson, who was one of the most intensely competitive human beings imaginable, and he made the measure of his success having the courage not to fight back."
After playing a season for the Dodgers' minor league team in Montreal, Robinson joined the Brooklyn team in 1947. He was named Rookie of the Year and was the Most Valuable Player in the National League in 1949. Robinson stayed with the Dodgers for his entire 10-year major league career and helped the team win the 1955 World Series. In 1962, he became the first black player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In his achievements, Robinson became a great symbol and inspiration for the civil rights movement. "He became the emblem of bearing up under great pressure and extraordinary circumstance for millions of Americans," Simon says. "Jackie Robinson not only changed the game of baseball, he changed the country that nourishes baseball."
Friday on Morning Edition, Special Correspondent Juan Williams reports on the history of racism in the Boston Red Sox and what the team is doing to change that image.
The Boston Red Sox and Racism.
Listen to Scott Simon discuss the integration of Major League Baseball on Talk of the Nation. Sept. 26, 2002.
Hear a Morning Edition interview with Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel. Sept. 26, 1996.
The Lords of Baseball tells the story of the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Search for more NPR stories on Jackie Robinson and baseball.
The Jackie Robinson Foundation site chronicles his life story.
Read letters and telegrams Robinson wrote to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson on civil rights issues.
See photos of and documents on Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues at the Library of Congress' online exhibit, "Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson."
See a Jackie Robinson timeline and videos at the Los Angeles Dodgers Web site.
Review Jackie Robinson's career stats in the Baseball Almanac.
Review a list of black player milestones in baseball history.