He was born in Cairo, Georgia on the last day of January in 1919, and died on October 24, 1972 in Stamford, Connecticut. A chilly April 15, 1947 was the day he broke baseball’s color barrier at Ebbets Field, the lone black man wearing the ice cream white uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The man they called “Robby” attended UCLA, where he won letters in three sports. He was in the Army during World War II and then played briefly in the Negro Leagues when the war ended. He was signed to a minor league contract with the Montreal Royals in 1946 by Branch Rickey, and the following year came up to the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke baseball’s age-old color line.
He played in the major leagues for a decade. He won the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949, and he helped the Dodgers win six pennants and one world championship.
Despite all the pressure he played under, he was still able to record a lifetime batting average of .311. His base-stealing ability and hustle won many games for the Dodgers. He set several records for fielding for second basemen.
His influence on sports is immeasurable. His breaking of baseball’s color line against the greatest of odds is still one of the most dramatic stories in all of sports history. And there are those who still have special memories of the man and the legend. Here is how one from that time still remembers the great player Brooklyn Dodger fans called “Robby”.
When school was out, I sometimes went with my father in his taxi. One summer morning, we were driving in East Flatbush in Brooklyn down Snyder Avenue. My father pointed to a dark red brick house with a high porch.
“I think Jackie Robinson lives there,” my father said. He parked across the street and we got out of the cab, stood on the sidewalk and looked at the house. Suddenly, the front door opened. A black man in a short-sleeved shirt stepped out. I didn’t believe it. Here we were on a quiet street on a summer morning with no one else around.The man was not wearing the baggy, ice-cream-white-uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers that accentuated his blackness. He was dressed in regular clothes, coming out of a regular house in a regular Brooklyn neighborhood, a guy like anyone else going out for a bottle of milk and a newspaper.
Then, incredibly, he crossed the street and came right toward me. Seeing that unmistakable pigeon-toed walk, the rock of the shoulders and hips that I had seen so many times before on the baseball field, I had no doubt who it was.
“Hi Jackie, I’m one of your biggest fans,” I said self-consciously. “Do you think the Dodgers are going to win the pennant this year?”
“His handsome face looked sternly down at me. “We’ll try our best,” he said.
“Good luck,” I said.”
“Thanks,” he replied.”
He put his big hand out, and I took it. We shook hands and I felt the strength and firmness of his grip. I was a nervy kid, but I didn’t ask for an autograph or try to prolong the conversation. I just he walked away down the street. That kid was me.
***Harvey Frommer is at work on REMEMBERING SUPER BOWL ONE: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY. He welcomes hearing from anyone with memories, perceptions, leads, memorabilia for his newest book. ***
Dr. Harvey Frommer received his Ph.D. from New York University. Professor Emeritus, Distinguished Professor nominee, Recipient of the “Salute to Scholars Award” at CUNY where he taught writing for many years, the prolific author was cited by the Congressional Record and the New York State Legislature as a sports historian and journalist.
His sports books include autobiographies of sports legends Nolan Ryan, Red Holzman and Tony Dorsett, the classics “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball,” “New York City Baseball: 1947-1957.” The 1927 Yankees.” His “Remembering Yankee Stadium” was published to acclaim in 2008. His latest book, a Boston Globe Best Seller, is “Remembering Fenway Park.” Autographed and discounted copies of all Harvey Frommer books are available direct from the author.
Please consult his home page: http://harveyfrommersports.com/
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