Today is Jackie Robinson Day, the day Jackie Robinson started in his first-ever game as a Brooklyn Dodger, breaking baseball’s long-standing color barrier, a seemingly impossible task at the time. Robinson attempted several times to secure a spot on a professional baseball team, leading him to Montreal, where the Dodgers’ International League affiliate team was, and a sham of a tryout with the Boston Red Sox, who only entertained Robinson briefly because their obtaining of a permit to play on Sundays was contingent on their allowing a Black player to try out (playing baseball on Sundays was strictly prohibited by the city of Boston at the time).
However, it has long been understood that some of the harshest encounters with racism and vicious prejudice for Jackie Robinson came in the city of Philadelphia, who seemed to relieve itself of its “city of brotherly love” moniker when it came to dealing with Robinson and his attempts to move the sport of baseball past its segregated stage. A recent movie about Robinson’s life, 42, which was released in 2013, honed in particularly on Robinson’s experience in Philadelphia, where was repeatedly taunted by the Phillies then manager, Ben Chapman, who shouted things like “go back to the cotton fields” at Robinson during the game, prompting the Dodgers shortstop to momentarily consider ditching the non-violent persona he was strongly urged by the Dodger organization to exhibit, even when he was under intense racial harassment. (Robinson reluctantly posed for a photo with Chapman afterwards, pictured above.) “For one wild and rage-crazed minute, I thought, ‘To hell with Mr. Rickey’s noble experiment’,” said Robinson at one point, according to The New York Times. The Rickey he’s referring to was Branch Rickey, the Dodgers exec partially responsible for Robinson’s decision not to retaliate where Robinson saw fit.
Though Jackie passed away in 1972, the City of Philadelphia City Council recently decided to pass a resolution officially apologizing to him for the treatment he suffered at the hands of their city, which will be presented to his widow, Rachel Robinson.
Those looking to deeply understand the struggle, journey, and eventual breakthrough Robinson experienced, and his deep impact on the game of baseball, should check out Ken Burns‘ new film, Jackie Robinson, being distributed by PBS. The two-disc voyage into Robinson’s life not only explores his impact on the game of baseball, but the role he played in the civil rights movement.
You can cop it here.