A common ice breaker question I have heard over and over again is ‘if you could meet anyone in history who would it be and why?’ Instantly my mind goes to men like Abraham Lincoln, Joshua (from the Bible and whom I’m named after), and Martin Luther King Jr. For me though, I like to take that question even one step farther and answer with what people in baseball history would I most like to meet and instantly one name stands out above the rest, Jackie Robinson.
On Martin Luther King Jr. day I strongly believe that it is important to not only honor all that Dr. King did but to also honor so many others who made a lasting impact on civil rights. Jackie Robinson is an individual who would make a lasting impact by simply playing a game that he was very good at.
For decades Major League baseball was a white only league. Some of the greatest baseball talent in the world wasn’t allowed to play on the biggest stage simply because they were born with a darker shade of skin. I honestly don’t care how bad people think steroids damaged baseball, it doesn’t even come close to the damage that segregation had on baseball, in my opinion.
When Branch Rickey began to pursue the idea of bringing in the first black player, he knew he had to look at more than just talent. Rickey needed to find a man who could not only be successful on the field but could be strong enough mentally to handle the attacks that would come at him every day. Josh Gibson may have been more talented than Jackie Robinson in that era but Robinson’s greatest strength was his mind.
Robinson attended UCLA but did not graduate. A few years after leaving UCLA Robinson joined the US Army during World War II. Both of these times in his life would help to develop him into the man that would someday be an icon for civil rights on the baseball field.
Robinson would need every ounce of toughness he had in him. Despite being attacked on the field with pitchers throwing balls at his head and runners sliding in with there cleats up, and “fans” of the game calling him every racial slur they could think of, Robinson couldn’t fight back. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to, and it wasn’t that he wasn’t capable of fighting, it was instead because he and Branch Rickey both understood that even the slightest mistake would block all other black players from playing professional baseball. Robinson had to be the better man because that is what baseball and America needed.
I can’t imagine what it was like for Jackie Robinson to go through all of the horrible things he went through but I do know that baseball and this country are better off because of what he did. So on this Martin Luther King Jr. day it is important that we honor all of the people who stood for what is right and were a part of something bigger than anyone person.
On April 15, the day that is designated as Jackie Robinson Day in major league baseball, the movie ‘42’ will be coming out. This movie is the story of Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey and how their decisions would shape baseball and much more. You can get more information and watch a trailer at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0453562/.