When he was on his way to spring training for the first time Jackie Robinson had things thrown at him, because he was an African American trying to break the color barrier in major league baseball. Twice he and his wife, Rachel were bumped from airplane rides they had tickets for, so white passengers could fly on the planes instead. They ended up riding on a bus instead, and they had to ride in the back. He was called names. How did Jackie Robinson thrive and become a Hall of Fame player, who never retaliated against his enemies? Rachel Robinson said in an interview on the website, www.thegoal.com, that it was because of his faith.
“We were given a mission in life,” Rachel Robinson said “We had to carry out the mission. Jackie thought that his talent was God-given.”
There is no doubt that Jackie Robinson was a gifted athlete, and he might have won every award a baseball player could win-despite the fact some believe baseball wasn’t even his best sport. He won letters in four different sports at UCLA before going on to star in baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In college he was a halfback on the football team, played basketball, and was a track star, besides playing baseball. He was the first athlete at UCLA to letter in four sports.
The late star was posthumously given the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor on March 2, 2005. Rachel Robinson received the medal, and those in attendance at the ceremony included President Bush, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, House and Senate Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, Representative Richard Neal of Massachusetts, Senator John Kerry, and the Reverend Jessie Jackson.
Jackie Robinson endured a lot to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He encountered racial taunts and slurs, on the field and off, death threats, character assassination, and about anything else a prejudiced person could think of to throw at him. He always turned the cheek instead of retaliating, however, and showed his enemies who was the better person.
Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers was known for his wisdom, as he created the farm system in major league baseball. He had to decide whether he wanted to be the first to sign a black baseball player to a major league contract, had to decide how much talent Jackie Robinson had, and he had to decide whether Jackie Robinson had the inner strength to endure the bigotry he would face.
Jackie Robinson may have been strong for another reason in addition to his faith-his heritage. He was born the son of share croppers, the grandson of slaves.
In his youth, Robinson came under the influence of a Methodist minister, Karl Everitt Downs, who taught him about a Savior Who died for his sins, who taught His followers to love their enemies and to turn the other cheek when confronted. Before meeting Downs, Robinson had some trouble with the local police and the Jim Crow laws, which were designed to discriminate against African Americans. After meeting Downs, not only did Jackie Robinson believe in Christ and come to love his enemies, he also made it a point to be in church every Sunday-even when his body was sore after playing football on Saturday.
The things Robinson came to believe in forever affected his life, and that may be one of the reasons Branch Rickey was so impressed with him. Rickey himself was a Methodist and a dedicated believer. Rickey was a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University.
Rickey told Jackie Robinson that his ability to hit, throw, and run was only part of the challenge. Could he stand up to the verbal, psychological, and even physical abuse he would suffer? He told him he wanted a player man enough not to fight back, even when everything in his nature might cry to fight back, even when many would say he might be justified in fighting back. He even acted out some of the abuse Robinson might face: playing the role of a hotel clerk denying him a room; playing a bigoted waiter in a restaurant; becoming a rude railroad conductor; playing the worst kind of bigot, calling his parents all kind of names in an unbelievable language and saying the worse things about his race. He even took a pretend swing at Jackie’s head and reminded Robinson he could not strike back.
Branch Rickey also quoted the New Testament about turning the other cheek and loving your enemies.
Not only did Jackie Robinson never retaliate, but he became a star player. He was the Rookie of the Year for the National League in 1947 and the Most Valuable Player for the National League in 1948. He helped the Dodgers win pennants both years. His talent helped the Dodgers stay in the pennant race in 1950 and 1951, two years when they might not have without his determination and hustle. Although Robinson, who originally signed with the Dodgers when he was 27, not a young age for a prospect, was in the twilight of his career, he led the Dodgers to their only championship in Brooklyn in 1955.
Jackie Robinson became disillusioned with the Dodgers and owner Walter O’Malley after he forced out Rickey as general manager. The star was sold to the New York Giants, but Robinson chose to retire at age 37, in 1956, rather than play for the new team.
No other player since World War II has had more steals of home-19. He played on five all star teams as a second baseman, one as a third baseman, and one as an outfielder. He was the National League leading hitter in 1949 at .342 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. His career batting average was an impressive .311.
A lot of baseball fans from his day no doubt still remember Jackie Robinson as a player and as a man.