In addition to being Tax Day, yesterday marked 63 years since Jackie Robinson broke the modern color line in baseball with his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Robinson’s number 42 has been retired from use by all teams, with the exception of Marian0 Rivera, who are grandfathered in, yet each year on April 15 all players in the major leagues wear a jersey bearing his number.
Robinson Cano, who was named after the baseball legend, hit two home runs against the Angels as the Yankees beat the Angels.
Robinson’s story has become a combination of fable and morality tale over the past six decades. Dodgers’ owner Branch Rickey has become a saintly figure who worked to integrate the game out of the goodness of his heart, and Robinson has been represented by some as an apolitical martyr.
Robinson through these books emerges as a deeply principled man and remarkably versatile athletes whose protests against racial injustice began while he was serving in the U.S. Army. In an action that anticipated Rosa Parks’ protest 11 years later, Robinson refused to get to the back of the bus when ordered to do by a white driver. Robinson’s decision sparked a series of events that culminated in his being court martialed and eventually acquitted.
Both books also take on Robinson’s complicated political activism. While he continued to advocate tirelessly for civil rights advances, he remained a staunch reporter of the Republican Party long after the majority of African-Americans had left the party of Lincoln.
The biographies also explore the grief Robinson endured from the struggles with drugs and early death of his son, Jackie, Jr.
Eig’s work also sheds useful light on the role played by sportswriter Wendell Smith in helping to chronicle Robinson’s experience during the year and provide emotional support for the often beleaguered and embattled second baseman.
Robinson himself did not live beyond 53, a victim ostensibly of diabetes, but, according to others, his life was shortened by the abuse he endured during his lonely stint as a pioneer.
While we are grateful for his enormous contributions to the game and to American society, that appreciation should be grounded in an understanding of what really happened, rather than the treacly myth that has developed since that momentous year.
Eig and Rampersad’s book help us gain that understanding.