Sunday, April 15, 2012

Happy Jackie Robinson Day!

I'm headed to Fenway this morning to see the Red Sox battle the Rays - and keep hopes for a sweep alive.  It will be my first time at the park since Game 81 of last year (which ended in a Red Sox loss), and I could not be more excited about the fact that today is Jackie Robinson Day across MLB.

I'm taking a couple of sports related classes this semester (Baseball as American Culture and History of US Sports), and so we've obviously talked quite a bit about Robinson, both as an incredibly talented baseball player and as an amazingly strong and resilient human being.

Robinson took more abuse from fans, opposing teams, and even coaches, than any of us will ever understand - he not only paved the way to end segregation in baseball, but he was a beacon of hope to African-Americans all over the United States.  The best book I've read on Robinson is called Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and his Legacy, by Jules Tygiel.  If you're interested in reading about Robinson's journey, or about Dodgers' mastermind Branch Rickey, this is the book for you.

The Red Sox in particular have cause to reflect on Jackie Robinson today, because they were the last MLB team to integrate, when Pumpsie Green debuted in July of 1959, TWELVE YEARS after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.  The Sox remained a notoriously racist organization far beyond Green's tenure on the team, and this fact was a big part of some terrible Red Sox teams - even when the Red Sox were ready to bring in African-American and Latin players, said players wanted nothing to do with an organization with that kind of reputation. (For more reading about this topic, check out It was Never About the Babe: The Red Sox, Racism, Mismanagement, and the Curse of the Bambino, by Jerry M. Gutlon.)

Of course, the Red Sox aren't discriminating against non-white ballplayers these days, but it's important to understand the scarred history of the franchise, because it all led up to today.

Today, every player in Major League baseball will wear 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, and all that he stood for.  It's a meaningful and important sight, and I feel privileged to have tickets on this day specifically.

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