Monday, January 23, 2012

Rant #661: Jackie the Hall of Famer

Here's a 50-year anniversary that will likely go pretty much un-noticed.

Fifty years ago today, Jackie Robinson became the first black member of baseball's Hall of Fame.

And he was voted into the shrine during his first year of eligibility.

That doesn't eclipse the day he put on the uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first black player in the major leagues. But it is still an incredible accomplishment.

He not only broke the color barrier in the major leagues, he also broke it in the most revered sports hall of fame of them all.

Robinson was the fireplug of the Dodgers during their glory years in Brooklyn, mainly in the 1950s before they left for greener pastures in Los Angeles. He was their "secret" weapon, bringing a whole new dimension of speed and wreckless abandon to the game that was almost more important than the fact that he was the major league's first black ballplayer, setting the tone for all who followed him to this day.

I guess you can say that General Manager Branch Rickey got lucky; not only did he choose the right person to break the color barrier, but he also got someone who could actually play the game to a higher level.

Other sports' color barrier breakers weren't as lucky. For instance, in the NBA, not only was the guy who did it something of a stiff-Chuck Cooper--but it is disputed as to whether he was actually the one who did it. There are others in the mix, and many say it was Sweetwater Clifton or even others.

I don't know what they based "the first" on in the NBA, but whoever it was, he didn't have the grandeur of Jackie Robinson.

And who did it in the NFL and NHL? Who knows?

Robinson could do it all, and do it in spite of barbs from other teams and fans.

And Rickey knew he had something of a thick skin, and he could take it.

Even some on his team hated him.

But Southerner Pee Wee Reese, another Hall of Famer, set the tone.

If a Southerner could accept this man, than anyone could.

And they did, eventually.

Robinson was as important to the civil rights movement as Martin Luther King was, in his own way.

King did it from the pulpit, Robinson from the diamond.

But their efforts led to more acceptance, more understanding, and more opportunity.

Robinson had something of a tough life after baseball, because there were, at the time, no opportunities for old black ballplayers as managers, general managers or executives.

It took another former ballplayer--Tommie Aaron, Hank's brother--to become the first black manager in professional baseball (at the minor league level), but that was yet to come.

Robinson died young, but his legacy lives on.

I will be taking two days off from this blog for some medical testing--nothing crucial--and for some other things, but I will be back on Thursday. Speak to you then.

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