By Freedom Newspapers
Sixty years ago this week, a momentous event for this nation, founded on the principle “all men are created equal,” played out on a baseball diamond.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was chosen by another exceptional man to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, a devout Methodist who didn’t attend Sunday games and discouraged players from using foul language, selected Jackie Robinson, probably not even the Negro League’s best ballplayer.
In a face-to-face meeting, he gave the young player a taste of what to expect from foul-mouth bigots, sparing no racial taunt or insult. Players would slide at him spikes up, and pitchers would aim fastballs at his head, he warned.
“Mr. Rickey, do you want a ballplayer who’s afraid to fight back?” the 26-year-old Robinson asked.
“I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back. You will symbolize a crucial cause. One incident, just one incident, can set it back 20 years,” Rickey responded.
He chose the right man. With stoic resolve, Robinson became one of baseball’s all-time greats, electrifying crowds with his aggressive play.
But great moments are seldom solo acts. As teammate Rex Barney recalled in Peter Golenbock’s book, “Bums,” great challenges raise up exceptional men. Barney recalled a day when Cincinnati Reds players unmercifully heckled Robinson, then turned their venom to Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese: “How can you play with this n—–?”
“Pee Wee went over to him and put his arm around him as if to say, ‘This is the guy. We’re gonna win with him.’ Well, it drove the Cincinnati players right through the ceiling, and you could have heard the gasp from the crowd as he did it,” Barney said.
There has been some debate in recent days as to whether Reese actually put his arm around Robinson, or whether he touched his shoulder or simply walked over and stood next to him in response. There is no question that Reese, a Kentucky-born Southerner, supported his teammate — repeatedly, with words and actions — amid the taunts that continued all season.
Two exceptional men helped turn a nation for the better.
What government accomplished only by coercive power, baseball accomplished by the force of good men’s will.
Jackie Robinson is legendary, and he stood not alone but with other legends.