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  • May 14th, 2015

    May 14, 2015: Guest Post:
    Jackie Robinson: A Letter to the President

    Posted by Christine E. at 8:27 pm in Baseball,BBBA,Guest Post Comment (1)

    Fellow Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA) member Stephen of Pastime Post offered this article to whomever wished to post it on their website.

    I am so very glad he did. It is worth the read. Enjoy.

    Jackie Robinson: A Letter to the President by Stephen C. Jordan

    I have lived in New England for the majority of my years, and have been a baseball fan since I can remember. As a kid I voraciously read any sports history I could get my hands on. In the 1970s, I would check out all the baseball and football history books in the elementary and junior high school libraries I could get my hands on, and routinely trudge through the snow in holey sneakers with a sack on my back filled with sports books. (How did we ever live without the Internet?) I would keep many of the books far past the due dates-some would never make it back to the school libraries. (I was such a little rebel geek.) I would digest baseball statistics for hours at length, and would happily lose myself in historical baseball stories learning the legend of many of the diamond’s greatest historical figures. The Babe was of course larger than life, Cobb’s villainism seemed surreal and the courage and strength of Jackie Robinson was beyond inspirational.

    JR1Much later in life, after becoming an adult and making a couple modest nickels, I could now finally afford to buy a baseball jersey, any jersey I wish. A childhood dream fulfilled . . . which one would I finally break down and purchase? Well now. I could see the changes in the game over the years and the evolution of the free agency era. Players seemed to be changing teams and uniforms almost every other season. For example, to buy a Rickey Henderson jersey one year (a player I always liked), one had to be prepared to purchase another jersey the following season. I didn’t want to do this. I decided to buy a nice throwback jersey of one historical player. What player’s jersey would I want more than any other, I pondered? Even though I had never been a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I decided I only wanted a number 42 blue jersey, with “Brooklyn” scripted on the front, and “Robinson” printed on the back. Though always very frugal, I broke down and paid $125 or so for a top shelf Jackie Robinson jersey.

    I owned this jersey for a number of years and would wear it proudly on occasion, whenever I would attend a baseball game. Then, by coincidence, happenstance, or cosmic intervention, I’m not sure which, I met my (to be) wife, who happened to reside in Queens, New York. After months of driving back and forth between New York and Maine, where I lived (5 hours each way), we decided one of us had to make the jump and relocate. (Yah, she is a special girl.) After much discussion, well, New York prevailed over southern Maine . . . and so I made the move to the Big Apple. JR2

    So I become a resident of Queens, and while the culture shock was still setting in (all the pine trees turned into buildings!), I eventually came to realize that we lived within walking distance of where Jackie Robinson is buried–in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. After mentioning this to my wife we decided to take the walk to visit Jackie. Of course I put on my 42 jersey, and we excitedly made our way.

    We learned that Mae West is also buried at the same cemetery, but we chose not to pay the sextette a visit this afternoon. For, it is a huge cemetery, and I was simply too anxious to spend time with Jackie. When we reached the grave site of the great Jackie Robinson, it felt as though I had located a family member. It was instantly clear that the memory of Jackie Robinson indeed continues to live on. I was struck by all the momentos that passersby and visitors had left at his grave site. Robinson passed over 40 years ago in 1972, yet, still many people continually swing into Cypress Hills to pay him a visit. There were candles left at the head stone, flowers, baseballs, baseball bats, stones, and some heart-felt hand-written notes left for him. It was really something.

    JR3We all know Jackie Robinson was a pioneer for social change. Still yet, we tend to lose sight of what he had to actually shoulder in the 1940s, assisting a nation saddled with a racial system that remained laced with prejudice and grave injustices, some 80-plus years after the United States did away with slavery with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. It was a tall order for anyone to bear. He had already experienced racism in his life. He was an intelligent man. Robinson was warned repeatedly by many, both black and white, about the hatred and violence that he would face. No matter, in 1947, Jackie Robinson accepted his job with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Despite all of the ugliness that was thrown at his way, he did his job. And, the man did his job damn well.

    With unbreakable bravery and courage, Robinson assisted this country with finally confronting a level of inequality that tore against the very fabric of the American flag and the country’s most closely held founding Constitutional principles. This weighty burden fell squarely upon Robinson, and the gravity of such weight served to age a great human being far beyond his years.

    I sometimes think that in the country’s collective consciousness, people erroneously think of Robinson as an extremely quiet and purely agreeable fellow. To the contrary, Robinson possessed innate burning passions and determination, which hot embers served him well, enabling him to combat the ugly forces of racism that he routinely faced. Thankfully, he also possessed an intelligence to handle it with a laudable, zealous diplomacy. Still all the while, the gritty professional was always busy figuring out savvy ways of fighting back against his opponents. He was a true competitor that was bright and determined enough, that one way or another he was going to find a way to beat you. No one else could dance around the base paths and confuse the opposition, and then steal home plate like Jackie Robinson. JR4

    Jackie didn’t just do his part by showing up every day kicking up dust on the baseball diamond. Robinson always made an impact on and off the field. Make no mistake about it, Jackie never shrank into the shadows after his playing days either. During his entire lifetime, he would rise and confront the persistent challenges presented by the continuing racial injustices that afflicted America.

    Robinson would serve for years on the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), until 1967. He was also extremely active with business activities that sought to advance and improve the conditions of African-Americans. Robinson also established a construction company whose purpose was to construct new housing for low-income families. In addition, he remained quite active in politics, and regularly voiced his opinions on new and proposed legislation. Robinson was particularly outraged and was publicly vocal against certain politicians’ opposition to legislation for civil rights in the 1960s-in particular, the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Moreover, the Act ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public, referred to as “public accommodations.”

    It was fifty years ago that Jackie Robinson wrote and sent a bold telegram to President Lyndon B. Johnson. On March 7, 1965, “Bloody Sunday” took place. Hundreds of demonstrators planned to March in Alabama from Selma to the state’s capital of Montgomery, to protest the killing of a black Vietnam veteran by a white police officer, as well as to protest the frustrations wielded upon blacks’ right to vote. At the time, in Selma less than one percent of the potential African-Americans voters were registered to vote. The demonstrators were greeted by a wall of police officers and police cars. Instead of turning back the demonstrators, police officers violently attacked the protesters, using billy clubs and tear gas. On Capitol Hill, “Bloody Sunday” also became, in the words of Jacob Javits, a Republican Senator from New York, “an exercise of terror.”

    Two days later protestors again attempted to make their march onto Montgomery. This time the protesters were joined by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. The peaceful marchers were again greeted by armed lawmen. The protesters knelt and sang “We Shall Overcome,” then turned around and left the bridge without ever crossing it.

    Earlier, Dr. King had made requests for whites and blacks to join and march in solidarity with the people of Selma. That evening three pastors who had joined the march were having dinner in Selma. After they finished dinner they started to make their way back to the church, but unfortunately, they found themselves lost in a hostile white neighborhood. The pastors were shocked when they were confronted by several angry white men stomping towards them with wooden clubs. A vicious attack ensued upon the protesting pastors, and one of the pastors was fatally wounded. He died two days later.

    News stations across the country were providing a fair bit of coverage of the horrors that were transpiring in Selma, Alabama. The country became outraged at the mistreatment the protestors were receiving. Robinson had realized that he had seen enough of the violence, and on March 9, 1965, Robinson dashed off a telegram to President Johnson. It read:

    “IMPORTANT YOU TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION IN ALABAMA. ONE MORE DAY OF SAVAGE TREATMENT BY LEGALIZED HATCHET MEN COULD LEAD TO OPEN WARFARE BY AROUSED NEGROES. AMERICA CANNOT AFFORD THIS IN 1965. JACKIE ROBINSON”

    JR5

    When necessary or appropriate, Robinson would take a stand on any issue. He was widely respected, and people would listen to what he had to say. When Robinson saw injustice, he would openly share his thoughts and opinions.

    Towards the end of his life, with his health increasingly failing him, Robinson was asked by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to attend the World Series in 1972. Robinson refused to attend. He explained to the Commissioner that his reasoning was due to it being unacceptable that there was not one black Manager in Major League Baseball. Kuhn spoke with Robinson and gave his promise that there would soon be a black Manager in MLB. Kuhn gave his word, and asked Robinson to please consider his promise. Believing in Commissioner Kuhn, Robinson gave the Commissioner a call within a few days and accepted the Commissioner’s promise and attended the World Series.

    On October 15, 1972, at the World Series at Riverfront Stadium (the A’s versus the Reds), Robinson made his final public appearance. Before a capacity crowd, Robinson stated: “I am extremely proud and pleased to be here this afternoon, but I must admit I’m going to be tremendously more pleased and more proud, when I look at that third base coaching line one day and see a black face managing in baseball.”

    And with those final words, Robinson exited the world stage, only nine days later. JR6

    Yes, Commissioner Kuhn kept his promise to Robinson. Major League Baseball had its first black manager a few years later, in 1975-Frank Robinson was hired as a player and manager for the Cleveland Indians that season.

    So, fifty years after Robinson’s telegram to President Johnson, and forty years after Frank Robinson’s managerial debut, where are we today? Do African-Americans and other minorities have adequate representation in the managerial ranks of Major League Baseball? Would Jackie Robinson be “tremendously proud” looking down the third base coaching line today?

    The blunt and real answer to each of these questions is an unequivocal “No.” There is no other way to look at it.

    As of today, there is but one black manager in MLB, Seattle Mariners’ Lloyd McClendon. There are thirty teams, thus, black managers comprise only about three percent (3%) of all MLB managers. African-Americans comprise of almost eight percent (8%) of all players in MLB. The present statistical discrepancy is by no means an anomaly. A large statistical gap has existed in MLB ever since Jack Robinson first entered baseball in 1947.

    What about the percentage of Hispanic players, and the number of Hispanic managers? Is there fair or reasonable representation with this group? Not even close. The present percentage of Hispanic players in MLB comprises approximately twenty-five percent (25%) of all players in the league. And, there is but one Hispanic manager in MLB (3%)-the Atlanta Braves’ Fredie Gonzalez.

    Two recent hires are indicative of what is typical. During this past offseason the Minnesota Twins chose to hire Paul Molitor as their new manager, even though he had zero experience managing any team at any professional level. Molitor, a Hall of Fame former player, got the job over other very qualified blacks and Hispanics. Shortly thereafter, the Tampa Bay Rays hired Kevin Cash, a white 37-year old former catcher who also had zero managerial experience. Cash too was given the job over other qualified blacks and Hispanics. Dave Martinez, a longtime Hispanic bench coach for the Rays was never offered the managing opportunity, even though he knew the team and the system inside and out.

    The horrifically low percentages of black and Hispanic managers in MLB are nothing short of appalling and unacceptable. It is absolutely shameful in fact. To suggest that all persons have an equal opportunity to manage in MLB regardless of race and ethnicity, is to wear ignorant blinders to bold and stark realities. The disgraceful statistics, in existence decade after decade, do not lie. Clearly, any type of racial biases should find no place in organized baseball, especially in this day and age. MLB should find these longstanding realities to be embarrassing. MLB should take action.

    Whether or not affirmative steps should be taken to address past (and present) racism has been the subject of political debate in America for decades now. After 250 years of work without wages (slavery) and after blacks endured a different form of oppressive treatment for another 130 years, much of the country has chosen to forget the past, embracing the level-playing field model of justice.

    The level-playing field rhetoric, which permits de jure equality and ignores inimical effects of past injustice, has been deemed by many to be devoid of substance. It was President Lyndon B. Johnson that stated that claims for opportunity without results are a trick. Both President Johnson and Justice Thurgood Marshall made the case for distinguishing between opportunity and results. Reverend Jesse Jackson has said, “Show me a tree not by the bark it wears, but by the fruit it bear. The opportunity-results dynamic is a tree being known by its fruit, by the evidence.” Jackie Robinson once told Larry King that he didn’t like promises. He added, “Don’t put me in my grave promising my son he will have equality. You show me equality, so then I know, my son will have equality.

    In 1997 MLB retired number 42 throughout all of MLB, forever. No other number has been retired all throughout the sport, in all of its lengthy and gloried history. At the time of the retirement of number 42, Commissioner Bud Selig said “Baseball’s proudest moment was when Jackie took the field in 1947.”

    Take notice Major League Baseball. Take notice Commissioner Rob Manfred. Change needs to happen. Soon. Stop ignoring decades of horrendous inequality. In the true spirit of baseball’s “proudest moment,” in all of the promise surrounding the retirement of number 42, take affirmative and very real steps to effect change. It’s the right thing to do. Jackie Robinson’s legacy demands it, most respectfully. The league should thank Mr. Robinson, for his passion, patience, and understanding in the face of egregious adversity, for shouldering the burden of America’s ugliest scar.

    I know I will always wear my 42 jersey with pride. No one could ever steal home like Jackie Robinson did.

    Stephen C. Jordan, Esq. is the Editor of Pastime Post, a website focused exclusively on baseball history. Jordan has authored two books: Bohemian Rogue: The Life of Hollywood Artist John Decker (Scarecrow Press, 2004) and Hollywood’s Original Rat Pack: The Bards of Bundy Drive (Scarecrow Press, 2008).

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    Jackie Robinson: A Letter to the President”

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