Monday, April 15, 2013

Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey, and Pee Wee Reese

On the 66th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier in baseball, this post is dedicated to Mr. Robinson and all those who have with the proper attitude allowed themselves to be persecuted for a cause that was right and good. I have been a huge Dodgers fan my entire life, so I am very familiar with all of the latest buzz from the movie "42" and this anniversary. It is good to know people are being exposed to some of the facts surrounding the Jackie Robinson story.

I would like to share with you just a few, perhaps little known facts about these three men who are the main characters in "42."

Branch Rickey was one of the greatest innovators the game of baseball has ever known:
  • He did play professional baseball and football in the early 1900's. He was not a great big-league catcher. He once allowed 13 steals in one game while behind the plate - still a record. (It was true in his case that, "those who can't play, manage.")
  • He was responsible for the invention of the farm system (which ultimately saved minor league baseball).
  • He promoted the first widespread use of the baseball helmet, and is considered by most as its creator.
  • He instituted the first spring-training facility in Vero Beach, Fl.
  • He not only drafted Robinson, but also Roberto Clemente, and earlier on had signed other players like George Sisler.
  • His farm system produced and developed players such as Stan Musial and the Dean brothers. He coached baseball for the University of Michigan and was responsible for building the "Gashouse Gang" - the dominant 1930's Cardinal team.
  • He served our country in World War I. As an officer in the Army in France, he commanded a chemical training unit that included Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson.
  • He said "luck is the residue of design."
  • His efforts to desegregate baseball were born out of idealism and his astute sense of business.
  • He considered himself a religious man and a Bible reading man. During a speech in 1965, he collapsed while attempting a Biblical quote. These were the last words he ever spoke.
  • He died in 1965 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967.
Pee Wee Reese:

  • Always my favorite Dodger, he was born on July 23 (also my birthday) in Ekron, Ky (1918). He grew up in segregated Louisville.
  • He got his nickname during his childhood from playing marbles - a "pee-wee" was a small marble...and he, too, was small.
  • As a child his father made an impression on him concerning racism, once taking him to a tree where a lynch-mob had formerly murdered a black man.
  • He did not play any baseball until his senior year of high school, weighing only 120 lbs.
  • He was first discovered through his success in church league baseball, and his team was purchased by the Boston Red Sox solely for the purpose of his being signed to a contract to play professionally.
  • While waiting his opportunity to play shortstop for the Red Sox, he became familiar with persecution. Joe Cronin was the current shortstop and manager of the Red Sox. He was at the end of his career and felt threatened by Reese's talent. He downplayed his talents and kept him out of the big leagues as long as possible. Finally Cronin persuaded the Red Sox to trade Reese altogether to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
  • When he met Jackie Robinson, it was the first time in his life that Reese had ever shaken hands with a black man.
  • He refused to sign a petition by his teammates that said they would not play with Robinson. When asked if he was worried about Robinson taking his place at shortstop, he said, "If he can take my job, he's entitled to it."
  • The scene in "42" where Pee Wee Reese rescues Jackie Robinson from the ridicule in Cincinatti during the pregame warm-ups is true. Reese stood there with his arm around Robinson until the Jeers subsided. To this day this is one of the most famous events in sports history. This gesture is depicted in a bronze sculpture of Reese and Robinson, created by sculptor William Behrends, that was placed at MCU Park in Brooklyn and unveiled on November 1, 2005.
  • He was a 10 time all-star and helped the Dodgers win several pennants, including the 1955 World Series.
  • He later worked as a baseball commentator and for Louisville Slugger.
  • He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, and died in 1999.
  • His most famous quote - "You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them."
  • At Reese's funeral, Joe Black, a former African-American baseball player from the early 50's who came in right after Robinson said these words - "Pee Wee helped make my boyhood dream come true to play in the majors, the World Series. When Pee Wee reached out to Jackie, all of us in the Negro Leagues smiled and said it was the first time that a white guy had accepted us. When I finally got up to Brooklyn, I went to Pee Wee and said, 'Black people love you. When you touched Jackie, you touched all of us.' With Pee Wee, it was No. 1 on his uniform and No. 1 in our hearts."
Jackie Robinson:

  • He was born in 1919 in Georgia. His middle name was "Roosevelt" - in honor of former US President Theodore Roosevelt who died 25 days before Jackie was born.
  • His father left him and his family while Jackie was just an infant. The family moved to Pasadena, Ca., where Jackie and several of his siblings became sport stars.
  • He had a brother, Mack, who won a Silver Medal in the 1936 Summer Olympics.
  • In 1936, Robinson won the junior boys singles championship in the annual Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament and earned a place on the Pomona annual baseball tournament all-star team, which included future Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bob Lemon.
  • He became the first person to ever earn varsity letters in four sports while at UCLA - baseball, basketball, football, and track. Baseball was actually considered his weakest sport of the four.
  • Hw won the 1940 NCAA Men's Outdoor Track and Field Championship in the Long Jump, jumping 24 ft 10 14 in (7.58 m).
  • He was assigned to the segregated Army in 1942 - where he applied to be an officer (but was met with opposition). He was the subject of persecution and lies during his entire miltary career. Once he was charged with public drunkeness by a superior (although he never drank). While traveling to a medical hospital on a non-segregated Army bus, the driver told him to go sit in the back anyway. Robinson refused and was eventually court-martialed. This charge was later reduced to insubordination and he was honorably discharged from the service.
  • In Branch Rickey's first interview with Robinson, Jackie asked, "Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?" Rickey said he needed a player with "guts enough to not fight back." He requested that Robinson be willing to "turn the other cheek" - to which Robinson agreed.
  • He not only ended 80 years of segregation in baseball, but influenced Harry Truman to order the desegregation of the military in 1948.
  • He was the first ever Rookie of the Year in MLB.
  • Having been placed in MLB at the older age of 28, he only played 10 seasons. But he played in 6 World Series and 6 All-Star games.
  • He stole home 19 times in  his career - and none of these were double steals - (where a player is assisted by the steal of another base from a teammate).
  • He was named by TIME Magazine as one of the most influencial people of the 20th century.
  • In 1999 he was named to MLB's All Century Team.
  • He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, 1962.
  • He died from complications with diabetes in 1972.
  • On April 15, 1997, (the 50th anniversary of the breaking of the color barrier in professional sports) - Robinson's jersey number, 42, was retired throughout Major League Baseball, the first time any jersey number had been retired throughout one of the four major American sports leagues.
  • Today only - being April 15 - everyone in major league baseball will wear number 42 in honor of not only Jackie Robinson - but all those who worked for the desegregation of our country.
  • Robinson once said of himself, "I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me ... all I ask is that you respect me as a human being."
Hats off to Rickey, Reese and Robinson. You made a huge difference in sports and in our world. You will never be forgotten!

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