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Breaking the Racial Barrier in Baseball

Essay by   •  February 28, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  1,572 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,821 Views

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Breaking the Racial Barrier in Baseball

Although Jackie Robinson was not the best African-American baseball player of his time, his attitude and ability to handle racist harassment led the way for the rest of his race to play Major League Baseball, amongst other sports. Being accepted into professional sports also helped African-Americans become more easily accepted into other aspects of life. Jackie's impact in the world for the black population is enormous.

According to Jessie Jackson, "A champion wins a World Series or an Olympic event and is hoisted on the shoulders of the fans. A hero carries the people on his shoulders" (Robinson 3). This is what made Jackie Robinson a hero to African-Americans. Robinson's achievement goes beyond the statistics and championships he earned on the field. He opened the door for his entire race to play professional sports and gain acceptance as more desegregation took place. After fighting in World War II from 1941 until 1944, Jackie played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues from 1944 until 1946. In 1946, he was selected as the best person to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

For a long time, it was assumed that blacks were not allowed to play in the Major Leagues simply because they had not for so long. When Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the commissioner of baseball at the time, declared that there was no rule preventing integration of the Major Leagues, the idea of an African-American joining the league was realized for the first time by a lot of people. In 1943, Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time, had an idea though to be outrageous by many during that period. He considered signing some black players to make up for the wartime shortage of talent. He narrowed down the list of prospects, searching for the best player to integrate baseball. The likely choices for talent would have been Satchel Paige or Josh Gibson. Rickey, however, wanted not only a star but a person who could deal with the harassment from the public, some teammates, and the overall opposition. Knowing of Jackie's talent and his hate for segregation, Rickey set up an interview hoping he could convince Robinson to sign a contract. When Rickey told Robinson why he had been brought to see him, Jackie's reaction was a combination of several emotions. "I was thrilled, scared, and excited. I was incredulous. Most of all, I was speechless" (Rampersad 126). When he did find the ability to speak, his answer was "Yes." Robinson was ready to accept the challenge.

Branch Rickey then told Jackie that he knew he had the talent to play in the Majors, but asked him if he had the guts to be the first black man to do it. When Robinson started to defend his manhood in anger, Rickey explained, "I'm looking for a ball player with guts enough not to fight back" (Rampersad 126). Rickey then acted out several situations with Jackie, acting as white men who treated Jackie unbearably. He explained to Jackie that his experiment would not work and others could not follow in his footsteps if Jackie struck back even once. The interview finished with Jackie Robinson signing a contract to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Jackie Robinson faced a lot of harassment and death threats throughout his career in the Major Leagues. Even though he was one of the best players, he was still not completely accepted by baseball fans or his teammates. When Jackie first came to the Dodgers, he was without a locker, and was told that he had to spend nights at separate hotel rooms from his teammates. On the team bus, Jackie had to sit in the back. Some teammates actually threatened not to sign contracts if they had to play on the same team as Robinson.

One night, the entire Dodgers team was dragged out of their beds for an important team meeting. The Dodgers manager Leo Durocher said to the team, "I don't care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like fuckin' zebras!" (Rampersad 164) The team looked at each other after the speech and agreed to try and accept Robinson as a teammate. The next day, Durocher once again said to the team, "I'm the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What's more, I say he can make us all rich." At the next game, most of the players said "Hi" to Robinson and treated him as a teammate. The thing that was so special about Robinson was that he was the only black player in the entire league, and he had to go through all of this harassment on his own. Robinson was once asked by a newspaper if he was lonely, he replied, "Yes I am lonely but the game keeps me happy, no matter what else happens. I know I am doing something to help the rest of my race in future years; that makes me proud." (Rampersad 189) Robinson also said later that having his wife in the stands kept him from feeling lonely on the field. Robinson received hate mail day in and day out, as well as newspaper criticism. At one point in the beginning of his career, he thought about calling it quits. He wondered if his sacrifice was truly worth it. He then realized that if he failed to break the barrier in this attempt, it might never happen. Robinson knew he had to make the sacrifice for African-Americans.

Jackie Robinson was able to endure this harassment because of his values, which his daughter,

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