Jackie Robinson Change Agent
LiveAuctionTalk.com: by Rosemary McKittrick
Photo courtesy of Hunt Auctions.
Jackie Robinson paid a price for being a crusader. Being the first black man in major league baseball and all the glory and grief that came with it ultimately cost him a lot.
He died at 53.
Dressed in his Brooklyn Dodger uniform the first black man in baseball felt like an uninvited guest on Opening Day in 1947 as he headed to first base at Ebbets Field.
Fear was palpable. Most of the team had never played with a black man before. Never hardly spoke to one. They couldn’t figure out what Robinson’s presence on the field would mean to the game. How were things going to change?
“This is my first ballgame in ten years,” said firefighter, Norman Hazzard. “I came out to look at the Negro boy play.”
Jackson knew every play he made, every hit, every stolen base counted. But he still had to take each game as it came forgetting about what history and hecklers might say.
Winning meant everything. It was the ultimate proof he and his race belonged in big league baseball.
The Opening Day crowd was smaller than usual for the game against the Braves, 26,623. The Dodgers won 5-3. Robinson was hitless but his playing at first base was faultless.
The first month was tough for the token black man. He was in a slump.
In the third series of the season in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies tensions really heated up. The moment Robinson walked out onto the field a flood of insults hit him.
Twenty-five years later it was still hard for Robinson to talk about what he heard coming from the Philly dugout that day.
“They’re waiting for you in the jungles, black boy!” “Go back to the bushes!” “Go back to the cotton fields where you belong!”
The insults were also directed at Robinson’s teammates warning them about the diseases they would catch being around him. Robinson later said he came closer to cracking up then than ever before.
Things got worse.
The crowd mikes near the backstop at Dodger home games had to be removed because radio listeners could hear the obscene language hurled at Robinson from the stands.
Chicago Cub starting pitchers also reportedly had standing orders to knock Robinson down.
“No one even said a word,” said Chicago Cub pitcher Hank Wyse. “Jackie didn’t say anything, their bench never said anything, even the umpire said not one word.”
Mostly Robinson kept it all inside.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. The problems of one Negro athlete were small compared to the possibility of smashing the color line for all the Negro athletes waiting for their chance behind him.
By the end of Robinson’s first season he was voted Rookie of the Year. With a .297 average, 12 homers, and 29 steals, he showed the naysayers he belonged right where he was. In 1949 he was voted the NL Most Valuable Player of the Year. In 1962 Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
On Nov. 14, 2009, Hunt Auctions, sold Robinson memorabilia.
Update: Nov. 21, 2017—A rare jersey from Jackie Robinson's historic rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers 70 years ago sold for $2.05 million at auction.
Robinson Autographed Government Postcard; postmarked 1951; $667.
Photograph; autographed; standing at the top of the dugout steps with bat; 8 inches by 10 inches; $1,150.
Photograph; autographed; in swinging pose; circa 1950s; 6 inches by 8 ½ inches; $1,380.
Road Jersey; Brooklyn Dodgers; gray flannel; original blue lettering across the front with classic number 42 affixed to the reverse; from former coach of one of the Dodgers’ farm teams; he either sold or gave away most of the uniforms he had including this one; 1948; $373,750.