Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Importance of Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson with Martin Luther King
Today is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball, and while Jackie Robinson's importance to Major League Baseball is recognized and understood, his importance to the American Civil Rights movement as a whole is largely overlooked.

Robinson was a lifetime Civil Rights advocate. Though he promised Dodgers GM Branch Rickey that he would "have the guts not to fight back" against the racist taunts and threats from white fans, players, and coaches, he spent his entire life fighting against racism. 

During his playing days, he proved racist expectations wrong again and again, performing at the highest level of the sport under 24/7 emotional siege. Robinson and his family were constantly targeted for harassment - somehow he not only survived that kind of stress, he led the league in multiple statistical categories.

Robinson's excellence in the previously all-white major leagues was a powerful symbol to Americans years before Brown vs. Board of Education began the slow process of school desegregation. His perseverance in the face of unspeakable bigotry served as an inspiration for thousands of people.

After retiring from baseball, Robinson wrote letters to several US presidents, urging them to take action against racism. He corresponded with Martin Luther King, and attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Robinson and his family at the March on Washington
Robinson was only 53 years old when he passed away in 1972. Just before his death, he attended the World Series, where he once again advocated for the breaking of barriers, urging MLB to employ more black people in coaching and management positions: "I'd like to live to see a black manager, I'd like to live to see the day when there's a black man coaching at third base." 

Sadly, Robinson didn't live to see that particular dream realized. He died much too young, and there's a lot of speculation that the extreme stress of his life contributed to his short lifespan

As I've done many times before in this space, I'm going to highly recommend Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy

As Red Sox fans, we have a responsibility to understand the kind of racism perpetuated by our team less than 70 years ago. The Red Sox were the very last team to integrate, twelve years after Robinson made his debut for the Dodgers. Boston had a reputation for being wholly unwelcoming to nonwhite players well into the 1990s. For more on this topic, I recommend It Was Never About the Babe: The Red Sox, Racism, Mismanagement, and the Curse of the Bambino, and Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

 They say hope springs eternal, and nowhere is that phrase more embraced than in baseball. When the calendar rolls to April, all thirty MLB teams start anew with a clean slate. Some, this year the Giants, hoist a Championship flag to celebrate last season's achievements, while the rest will heave a sigh of relief that 2014 is officially in the baseball history books.

But whether you cheer for the defending champs or one of the twenty-nine clubs that came up short, Opening Day is a magical time. It marks the beginning of spring, a slate of (mostly) day games to remind us that those warm summer nights will come again, and that the best things in life come without a clock (pace of play initiatives notwithstanding).

Anything is possible on Opening Day: veterans will return to their stomping grounds, or make debuts for new teams and in new leagues; rookies will set foot on the lush grass of big league fields for the first time. Home runs will jump off of bats with the most satisfying crack you've ever heard, and catcher's gloves will pop with the sound of strikeouts.

Little kids will eat hot dogs and sing about cracker jacks, while their parents buy overpriced beer and whatever weird food their home ballpark is debuting this season.

I've never been to an Opening Day persay, but I did go to Opening Night in 2010, when Pedro Martinez emerged from the Green Monster to throw out the first pitch. Then in 2013, I attended the Red Sox Home Opener. Both were amazing, particularly since the Red Sox won both games, but there's just something indescribable about the atmosphere when the offseason finally comes to an end.

Today is that singular day for everyone outside of Cubs and Cardinals fans - they got their special time on national television last night. After today's slate of fourteen games, we'll be back to business as usual. But for today, all is right with the world: baseball is back again.