Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bravery and Baseball

It's strange how two of my greatest heroes in life come from the world of baseball. Today celebrates the life of one of those great men - Jackie Robinson.

Jackie Robinson was a Hall of Fame second baseman for the Dodgers, then in Brooklyn, who began his career 60 years ago today, April 15, 1947.

The story goes that when Dodgers owner Branch Rickey signed Jackie, he asked him what he would do if a racist white man threatened him with violence and called him every disgusting name he could think of.

Robinson asked Rickey if he was wondering whether or not the young player had the guts to fight back. Rickey said, "No, I'm wondering whether or not you have the guts NOT to fight back."

Robinson suffered quietly through untold abuse. When the team traveled to some southern cities, he couldn't stay at the team hotel or eat with the other players at the same restaurants.

Some southern racists on other teams refused to play against Jackie, and when forced to, tried to injure Robinson on purpose.

Robinson even had ignorant southern racists on his own team such as OF Dixie Walker who refused to acknowledge his black teammate.

Some people think Robinson was selected to be the first black baseball player because he was the greatest player in the Negro Leagues, but that's not true.

Robinson was very talented, but hadn't completely honed his skills. Rickey wanted a player who would have to earn his way up through the baseball minor league system like any other player.

After spending time with the Dodgers minor league team in Montreal, Robinson joined the big league club in Brooklyn. Robinson earned the 1947 Rookie of the Year award.

After baseball, Robinson lived his life as a speaker, a writer, and an activist; but always maintained the quiet dignity and pride he projected in his playing days.

I mentioned at the top that I have two great heroes in baseball. The other is Lou Gehrig, a man who maintained a similar dignity and pride when struggling in another battle - the battle for his still young life as a crippling disease ended it.

While Lou Gehrig showed us how to handle death, Jackie Robinson showed us how to live life.

Robinson made the Baseball Hall of Fame by his achievments on the baseball diamond, but he makes the Hall of Fame for humanity by his achievments everywhere else.

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