By Russell Roberts.
With the upcoming release of the Jackie Robinson movie, “42,” it seems an appropriate time to examine what was one of the critical moments in his initial season in major league baseball.
Robinson was tested as no man had ever been just because of his desire to play baseball. Opposing teams threw at his head, deliberately spiked him, and tried to seriously injure him, so he could not play. Bench jockeys hurled the most vile verbal abuse at him, screaming insults that even embarrassed players on their own team. Tasked by Branch Rickey not to retaliate, for any reason, Robinson had to stoically endure this tirade.
Yet if there was one moment that stood out, it was an event still debated about to this day, but the story is so compelling, it deserves to be told.
It was early 1947, Robinson’s inaugural season in the National League with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Word came to Ford Frick, the President of the National League, that the St. Louis Cardinals were planning to strike if Robinson played in the team’s upcoming game with the Dodgers. This was a critical moment in the entire “Can A Black Man Play Professional Baseball?” experiment. If Frick – who had never shown himself a man dedicated to integrating baseball – had caved to the threat, the idea would have spread like wildfire to the other teams, and the entire idea of Robinson playing would have crashed and burned. After all, the team’s owners were in the baseball business to make money, and Frick was their employee. His job was to help them make money. If he had backed down because the owner’s profits were being threatened, the Dodgers would have been forced to sit Robinson.
However, to his credit, Frick faced the strike threat with honor. In a statement he supposedly made to the Cardinals’ team and owner, he said: “If you do this you will be suspended from the league. I do not care if half the league strikes. This is the United States of America and one citizen has as much right to play as another.”
The strike movement collapsed. Robinson played, and so did the Cardinals.
Later, there were denials that the Cardinals had ever threatened to strike. But the story persists, and refuses to go away. All this happened just because a black man wanted to play a game.
Such is the evil of racism.
Featured Photo Credit: libaseballmag.com