It’s gone now, and he’s gone now. But way back on April 15, 1947, on the hallowed grounds if Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, Jackie Robinson broke the color line in major league baseball before a crowd of 26,623 fans truly witnessing an historical event for the ages.
No one anywhere, in any sport, had to overcome the resistance, the hatred, and the racism that he did. Many of his own teammates did not want to take the field with him. The venomous racial insults hurled at him, even by little kids copying their parents, the scorn, the vile names, the death threats — it was horrific. It went on for years. All the while being unable to respond in any way whatsoever, except in the performance of his job playing baseball. And in that regard, amidst all his other challenges, he needed to excel. Somehow, he did so.
Teammate Don Newcombe had this to say: “Jackie was the only man I knew who could have put up with what he did and play baseball the way he did.”
Teammate Carl Erskine: “Jackie had a dignity about him. As tough as he was, and as fierce a player as he was, he had to make a promise to Mr. Rickey that he would never fight. I never saw Jackie fight in the clubhouse, on the field, in a restaurant, any place. He promised Mr. Rickey he would never fight and to my knowledge, history can record that he never did. He was true to his word.”
Teammate Pee Wee Reese: “To do what he did has got to be the most tremendous thing I’ve ever seen in sports.”
Teammate Sandy Koufax: “67 years ago, Jackie Robinson became my teammate and my friend. At that time, sharing the same space with him was absolutely unimaginable. It’s one of the greatest honors of my life.”
Teammate Duke Snider: “He was the greatest competitor I have ever seen.”
His manager, Leo Durocher: “I don’t care if the guy is yellow or black, of if he has stripes like a zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you can’t use the money, I will see that you are traded.”
His general manager, Branch Rickey: “Jackie, we’ve got no army. There’s virtually nobody on our side. No owner, no umpire, very few newspapermen. And I’m afraid that many fans may be hostile. We’ll be in a tough position. We can win only if we can convince the world that I am doing this because you’re a great ballplayer, and a fine gentleman.”
In Jackie Robinson’s own words: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
“During my life, I have had a few nightmares which happened to me while I was wide awake.”
“There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.”
“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.”
“Plenty of times I wanted to haul off when somebody insulted me for the color of my skin, but I had to hold to myself. I knew I was kind of an experiment. The whole thing was bigger than me.”
“Many people resented my impatience and honesty, but I never cared about acceptance as much as I cared about respect.”
“Above anything else, I hate to lose.”
Would there have been a civil rights movement in America without the achievements of Jackie Robinson?
The words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Jackie Robinson made my success possible. Without him, I would never have been able to do what I did. Back in the days when integration wasn’t fashionable, he underwent the trauma and the humiliation and the loneliness that comes with being a Pilgrim walking the lonesome byways toward the high road of freedom. He was a sit-inner before the sit-ins, a freedom rider before the Freedom Rides.”