By Nicholas Stix
[I had this piece ready for Robinson’s birthday on January 31, but a minor storm knocked out my Internet, TV, and landline service for almost three days. Just imagine what a real storm might do. Oh, yeah, I remember now. Been there, done that.]
In 1987, the National and American leagues and commemorated the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s big league debut, by renaming both leagues’ Rookie of the Year awards the Jackie Robinson Award. And in 1997, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s breaking-in, big league CEO Bud Selig—which is German for holy; God surely has a sense of humor!—made Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) the baseball equivalent of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks rolled into one.
Robinson’s number, 42, had already been retired by the only team he’d ever played for, the Brooklyn Dodgers, but that wasn’t enough for Selig. In an honor that had never been bestowed, before or since, on a big leaguer, Selig retired Robinson’s number across all 32 big-league teams. Thus, no player could ever again wear number 42. Selig was implying that Robinson was the greatest player in the game’s history.
Selig then made an exception to his new rule. He decreed that the anniversary of Robinson’s debut, April 15, 1997, would henceforth be Jackie Robinson Day, the only day recognized as holy in baseball, and further decreed that on that day, and that alone, players would be permitted to wear number 42.
If one was a baseball fan of a certain age, or at all scrutinized Selig’s move, there were numerous odd aspects to this lionizing of a great athlete.
Robinson had hung up his spikes before I was even born, but my Nana was his greatest fan. She used to take the train (I guess) from Long Beach, and then take the trolley car to the Dodgers’ home at Ebbets Field, just to see Robinson play. She recounted so vividly how Robinson would dance off third base, and drive opposing pitchers to distraction, even if he didn’t steal home (a feat he pulled off an amazing … times), that it was as if I had myself seen the great Robinson play.
But was he greater than (I’m going by era here) Cap Anson, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Carl Hubbell, Whitey Ford, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Johnny Bench?
Actually, a consideration of Robinson’s record leaves no doubt that he wasn’t close to any of the aforementioned men.
Don’t get me wrong. Robinson had a great career. He played 10 years for the Dodgers, in which he hit for a career average of .311, led the league in hitting once, stolen bases twice, was National League MVP once, chosen for six NL All-Star squads (in a row), and played in six World Series, winning one.
It’s a great career, but Hall of Fame-worthy it ain’t. Lots of guys have had great careers who don’t belong in Cooperstown.
Consider that old bulldog, David Cone. Coney played parts of 17 seasons, won 194 games, with a .606 winning percentage, had two 20-win seasons in the age of the early hook, led the AL in wins one season, struck out 2,668 hitters, had six seasons with over 200 strikeouts, threw a perfect game, won a Cy Young Award, played in five World Series, and won every one of them. His World Series numbers were 2-0, 2.12, while his postseason numbers totaled 8-3, and 3.80. Cone was a clutch player in the postseason.
While one could argue that Cone was a non-factor in the 2000 World Series, in which Joe Torre put him in relief to pitch to one batter, the Mets’ Mike Piazza, whom he retired on a fly out, Jackie Robinson was also a non-factor in the one World Series in which he played for a victorious Dodgers team. (Although Sports Illustrated tried to turn Robinson into the Series’ hero, based on his steal of home in game one, the Dodgers lost that game, and he stole no more bases thereafter, hitting a paltry .182, with two singles, a double, a triple, five runs scored and one RBI in six games, an on-base percentage of .250, and a slugging percentage of .318.)
Robinson’s fans will counter by pointing to their guy’s tremendous character. True enough. Dodgers GM Branch Rickey made Robinson promise not to blow his top or otherwise complain about his lot in baseball until he had been with the big club for three years, and Robinson kept his word.
Who can forget the day in Cincinnati when racist white fans buried the negro rookie in abuse, while Robinson refused to respond, and his gallant little white shortstop, Pee Wee Reese came over to him and put his arm around his shoulder, in a gesture of friendship seen in photographs ‘round the world.
But David Cone was no slouch in the character department, either. During the 1996 season, he almost died of an aneurysm in his pitching arm. The doctors told him he’d never pitch again. He countered that he would pitch again that very season.
Cone won; the doctors lost.
Although he missed two thirds of the season, Cone came back for the World Series against the Braves. With the Bronx Bombers down two games to none, and getting blown out (12-1 and 4-0), the Series would have been over, had Cone lost. Instead, he pitched a gutty, winning game, giving up only one run in six innings on four hits, and singlehandedly turned the Series around. The Yankees ran the table, with each win after Cone’s coming either in extra innings or by one run, and won the series four games to two.
The next season, Cone got hurt again, and again had to go under the knife, for his shoulder. As the 1998 season began, he was getting lit up, had an ERA of over 11, and looked yet again to be finished. But he re-created himself, and went 20-7 with a 3.55 ERA, finishing fourth in the Cy Young balloting.
The more I think about it, the more Cone seems like Hall material. Cy Young. Perfect game. Five rings. The dogged comebacks.
If David Cone isn’t Hall of Fame material, neither was Jackie Robinson. Robinson was clearly inducted for political reasons, the same reasons that have been behind the naming of the ROY awards after him, baseball’s only holy day, retiring his number on all 32 teams, etc., etc., etc.
Like all of our white ruling elites, Bud Selig has gone out of his way to suck up to blacks, who hold him and big league baseball in contempt, and to rub whites’ noses in it.
Three years ago, we went for the first time to see a ballgame at the Mets’ corporate-sponsored ballpark, which has its own Jackie Robinson shrine. I only saw one black fan there, though the workers were almost all black or Hispanic. Like other American institutions, the team’s owners, the Wilpon Family, assumes that whites will pay all the bills, while the Wilpons refuse to hire them.
The deification of Jackie Robinson has been unfair to Robinson’s memory, by making him into much more than he was. The lionization had already gone to Robinson’s head before his untimely death, from diabetes. Since then … oh, my Lord.
That leaves people with the choice of mindlessly singing his praises out of opportunism, or fear of being called “racist,” or of examining the myth.
Jackie Robinson Quotes:
Baseball was just a part of my life. Thank God that I didn't allow a sport or a business or any part of my life to dominate me completely. . . . I felt that I had my time in athletics and that was it.
[Actually, he was completely dominated by race. And everything he “accomplished” after baseball, was given to him, based on his baseball career.]
The right of every American to first-class citizenship is the most important issue of our time.
He meant, every black American.
I don't think that I or any other Negro, as an American citizen, should have to ask for anything that is rightfully his. We are demanding that we just be given the things that are rightfully ours and that we're not looking for anything else.
[Oh, he demanded much more than that. See the next entry.]
I guess you'd call me an independent, since I've never identified myself with one party or another in politics. . . . I always decide my vote by taking as careful a look as I can at the actual candidates and issues themselves, no matter what the party label.
[He was not an independent. He was a Republican Party activist. Perhaps he thought of himself as an “independent” because, although he demanded and got huge concessions from the Party, he refused to show it any great loyalty.
In Robinson’s ghostwritten autobiography (probably his second or third) towards the end of his life, he talked expansively of his activism within the Republican Party. He didn’t like Richard Nixon, because the man who expanded affirmative action more than presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton combined somehow didn’t do enough to suit him.
He liked liberal Republican New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, he said, because when Robinson demanded not only welfare and affirmative action but that “Rocky” meet with black activists and appoint blacks to state jobs at the highest level, giving them great political power, Rocky immediately caved into him.
By the way, how’d that black power thing work out?
However, I think that ultimately Robinson’s distaste for Nixon was based on purely personal animus, in the trivial sense of how one may meet a stranger, and for no particular reason, simply doesn’t care for him, as opposed to meeting another stranger, and for no particular reason, liking him. Had Robinson been honest about his political rent-seeking, he wouldn’t have made so much out of his not feeling like becoming Richard Nixon’s personal friend. Instead, he felt the need to moralize about it. But that was par for the course for civil rights hustlers.]
Civil rights is not by any means the only issue that concerns me—nor, I think any other Negro. As Americans, we have as much at stake in this country as anyone else. [Nonsense!] But since effective participation in a democracy is based upon enjoyment of basic freedoms that everyone else takes for granted, we need make no apologies for being especially interested in catching up on civil rights.
[Wrong, civil rights was the only issue that concerned him, unless we count whites putting money in his pocket.]
I won’t “have it made” until the most underprivileged Negro in Mississippi can live in equal dignity with anyone else in America.
[Not only is that a cliché worthy of Martin Luther King Jr., it is nonsense on stilts. In no society in this world is the “most underprivileged” person in the poorest state ever going to “live in equal dignity with anyone else.” I guess that was a pretext provided by his ghostwriter for agitating without end.]
Life is not a spectator sport. . . . If you're going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you're wasting your life.
[Blah, blah, blah. The man was a tremendously exciting ballplayer, but as a public speaker he was bore, in the classic black race man mold. By the way, there was a much better line written by Theodore Roosevelt, from which the foregoing line derived. Several years ago, a TV commercial had Robinson’s beautiful widow, Rachel, reading the TR line off-camera. I assumed that the line was Robinson’s, and I’m pretty sure that the copywriter intended for viewers to think that. ]
It is up to us in the north to provide aid and support to those who are actually bearing the brunt of the fight for equality down south. America has its iron curtain too.
Negroes aren’t seeking anything which is not good for the nation as well as ourselves. In order for America to be 100 per cent strong—economically, defensively, and morally—we cannot afford the waste of having second-and-third class citizens.
[Blah, blah, blah. If a group of people cannot function intellectually on a par with the majority, and refuse to obey the nation’s laws, then they cannot possibly be first-class citizens. The “waste” came when, according to Robinson’s wishes, first-class citizens were displaced, and responsible and powerful jobs were given to people with the intellectual ability required of ditchdiggers, but none of the necessary moral or intellectual integrity.]
I believe in the goodness of a free society. And I believe that society can remain good only as long as we are willing to fight for it—and to fight against whatever imperfections may exist.
[Blah, blah, blah. And to think, he had ghostwriters to pen this sort of pap for his speeches and newspaper columns!]
Activity idea: Determine which of the Jackie Robinson documents best reflects the message conveyed in each of the above quotes.
[Here’s one Robinson quote the Web page somehow forget to include:
I admit freely that I think, live, and breathe black first and foremost.
The most ironic aspect of all to Jackie Robinson’s signing by the Dodgers is that Branch Rickey wasn’t looking to be a moral pioneer; he was just a skinflint looking to tap a source of cheap talent!
The integration of baseball paved the way for the “integration” of American society in general, which was just a cover for racial socialism. Thanks a heap, Jackie!