Baseball’s # 42

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When I stayed at Mom and Tom’s during the summers, we always listened to ball games on the radio right after a lunch, usually of baloney sandwiches.

My grandparents were Tiger fans. No argument. But if the Tiger game was rained out, they’d switch the station to WLW in Cincinnati to listen to the Reds’ game.

It was during those National League games that I heard a lot about Jackie Robinson of the Dodgers.

Those days came back as I watched the PBS special the other evening about this man who broke the color barrier in the Big Leagues.

My son John and I had gone to see the 2013 feature-length film about Robinson at the cinema. This most recent TV special further fleshed out the details of the man’s extraordinary life.

I was reminded that Harrison Ford played the Dodgers’ club president Branch Rickey in the film. Well, the TV version of the Rickey character was just as believable. In any case, Rickey must have been one tough character to challenge the color line and bring up the promising ball player to the majors.

Rickey admonished the headstrong Robinson that he had to show the guts not to fight back. In the TV version this week, you got to see the abuse fans and other ball players subjected Robinson to.

He started at first base where base runners from the opposing team often spiked his foot touching the base. But Robinson also had to deal silently with abuse when he played other positions.

He starred as a hitter. During his 10 years in the majors, he often maintained a batting average of around 300.
One year, his average was .328.

Before his baseball career, he was a star athlete in basketball, football and track. The TV special, like the movie version, barely touches on such achievements.

Following his history-making baseball career, Robinson became a radio announcer, a salesman and a staunch advocate for civil rights. Like his mentor in that later role, Martin Luther King Jr., he was an eloquent spokesman for non-violence.

No surprise, he was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. This was in 1962. I can’t imagine anyone on the committee voting against the honor for this extraordinary man.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in my generation who grew up venerating sports heroes. Dad had been an athlete himself and often won honors as a golfer.

I regretted that he hadn’t lived long enough to see the TV special about Jackie Robinson. The special sure brought back a lot of memories for me, from players’ names to the pennant races in both leagues.

Of course, I had my heroes. But most of them didn’t live the exemplary life that Jackie Robinson did. No wonder buildings and streets from Brooklyn to Bakersfield, California are named in his honor.

Oh yes. They retired his number 42 long ago.

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