"Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." - George Washington
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Jackie Robinson Again
By Roger Angell
The New Yorker
April 12, 2013
I’ll catch the new Jackie Robinson movie, “42,” over the weekend—it’s great, friends say—but I need no sports-clip reminders or careful re-creations to bring his front-footed swing or his shouldering, headlong style on the base paths clearly back into view. I will keep some of his games forever—in particular, that final meeting with the Phillies, in 1951, to force a playoff for the pennant, which he saved with an astounding dive and stop behind second base in the twelfth, and won with a home run in the fourteenth. But that was just baseball; my first thought about him to this day was never a play or a famous hit but an idle, almost inexplicable midsummer, mid-game moment at the Polo Grounds in June or July of 1948.
I was sitting in a grandstand seat behind the third-base-side lower boxes, pretty close to the field, there as a Giants fan of long standing but not as yet a baseball writer. Never mind the score or the pitchers; this was a trifling midseason meeting—if any Giants-Dodgers game could be called trifling—with stretches of empty seats in the oblong upper reaches of the stands. Robinson, a Dodger base runner, had reached third and was standing on the bag, not far from me, when he suddenly came apart. I don’t know what happened, what brought it on, but it must have been something ugly and far too familiar to him, another racial taunt—I didn’t hear it—that reached him from the stands and this time struck home.
I didn’t quite hear Jackie, either, but his head was down and a stream of sound and profanity poured out of him. His head was down and his shoulders were barely holding in something more. The game stopped. The Dodgers’ third-base coach came over, and then the Giants’ third baseman—it must have been Sid Gordon—who talked to him quietly and consolingly. The third-base umpire walked in at last to join them, and put one hand on Robinson’s arm. The stands fell silent—what’s going on?—but the moment passed too quickly to require any kind of an explanation. The men parted, and Jackie took his lead off third while the Giants pitcher looked in for his sign. The game went on.
I have no memory of who won, but that infinitesimal mid-inning tableau stayed with me, quickly resurfacing whenever I saw Jackie play again, in person or on TV, over the next eight seasons and then again on the day he died, in 1972. He was fifty-three years old but already white-haired and frail. We all knew his story by heart, of course, and took a great American pride in him, the very first black player in the majors: a carefully selected twenty-eight-year-old college graduate and Army veteran primed and prepped in 1947 by Dodger President Branch Rickey, who exacted a promise from him that he would never respond, never complain, never talk back, no matter what taunts or trash came at him from enemy players out of the stands.
He did us proud, but at a cost beyond the paying.
Portrait, of Jackie Robinson: Hulton Archive/Getty.