It was a hot muggy day in July of 1953. The Cincinnati Reds were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. Reds outfielder, Jim Greengrass got a hit. He raced past first, rounded second, and headed for third. Greengrass crashed into the third baseman, knocking him to the ground as he touched the bases.
"Nice, slide," said Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers third baseman as he stood up and wiped off the dirt and sweat.
"So typical of Jackie," Greengrass related. "Jackie was a gentleman who treated people with respect." During the five years Greengrass played in the major leagues, he remembers Robinson as a tough competitor who would come to the ball park with one goal in mind. andRobinson came to play the game of baseball, and to give the game his total concentration."I was in awe of Jackie's ability to block out everything else but the players and the field. "Being a top ball player, Greengrass said, "demands total concentration," Greengrass felt that Georgians should be proud of Jackie Robinson, a native of Cairo, Georgia, who led the parade for other black baseball players like Roy Campanella, Don Neewcombe, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron.
Jackie Robonson died on October 24, 1972, at age 53 as a result of diabetes complications. The forner Dodger hero is buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. Death has not erased the memory of Robinson for Jim Greengrass and countless others. It was on October 15, 1945, that Robinson unlocked the doors of major league baseball to minorities by becoming the first black player in the majors.
"I have a big poster of Jackie Robinson at my home in my room," said Willie Smith, a computer information systems major at Georgia State University in Atlanta, "Hey, man," Willie said, " he started it all.".
And start it all he did. Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson was born on January 31, 1919. in Cairo, Georgia, the fifth child of Mallie and Jerry Robinson. Robinson's grandparents had been slaves on a plantation. His father was a sharecropper on the Jim Sasser Plantation in Grady County southwest of Cairo. The plantation was later called Olivia Plantation. Only a chimney remains of the plantation house that existed when when Robinsen was born in a cabin that stood on the red clay fields.
When Robinson was a baby, his father deserted the family. One day, soon after he left, Mallie Robinson packed up her kids and took a segregated train car to Pasadena, California, where her brother lived. She hardly left a trace in Cairo. There is not much information about Mallie and her children in Cairo because no one kept records of the sharecropper families. They just came and went.
In the Los Angele area, Jackie Robinson made a name in sports. In 1939, he entered UCLA where he lettered in baseball, basketball, track, and became an all-American in football. In 1941, he dropped out of college to earn money for the family.
In 1942, he was drafted into the Army. He played on the base football team at Fort Riley, Kansas, but quit in protest when when the Army agreed to keep him out of a game because the opposing team's players refused to play against a black opponent. Robinson was transferred to Fort Hood, in Texas. At Fort Hood, a bus drier asked Robinsonto move to the back of the bus.
"Why?" Robinson wanted to know.
His protest led to a court martial. Robinson was acquitted and honorably discharged. He then took a job playing for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro baseball league. While playing for the Monarchs, Robinson was approached by Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
According to Kenneth Ruden's biography of Jackie Robinson, Rickey told Robinson he wanted him to play for the Dodgers. Rickey asked Robinson if he had the courage not to fight back when fans and umpires called him names, when other players nailed him with their spikes.
Robinson is quoted as saying, "I'll try to hold my temper, bite my tongue, and do nothing back."
Rickey made the announcement on October 23, 1945, that he had signed Jackie Robinson.
Robinson played for the Dodgers top Farm team in Montreal for two years. He faced angry, hateful, racist crowds.
In Syracuse, the opposing team threw out a black cat on the field, and when Robinson came onto the field they yelled that the cat was his cousin. Robinson responded by hitting a double. He was quoted as saying, "I guess my cousin is pretty happy now."
On April 15, 1947, Robinson started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field against the Boston Braves. Robinson blocked out the thousands of screaming fans. He saw only the playing field and the players. The fans called him a 'nigger boy' over and over just like Rickey said they would.
The versatile Robinson played mainly at second base but also plaed first base and third base. By the end of thr first season, his teamates were behind him.So were many opponents. That first season, Robinson won Rookie of the Year. In 1949, he was the National League's Most Valuable Player. On out-of-town trips, Robinson tolerated segregated restaurants, buses, and hotels. While the rest of the team stayed in a hotel, he stayed in the homes of black families. When the team went to the all-white theater to see a movie, Robinson remained behind.
When questioned about how he felt about not gettimg to go along, Robinson was quoted as saying,"I do not want to go anywhere I am not wanted."
Robinson inched open baseball's door for black people in a non-violent way. Martin Luther King is quoted as saying in the book: Jackie Robinson, A Life Remembered, as saying: "You will never know how easy it was for me because of Jackie."
In his ten years with the Dodgers, Robinson played in 1,382 games. He hit 137 home runs, drove in 734 runs, and stole 197 bases. In 1962, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Neal Sussman, a native of Brooklyn, remembers going to Ebbets Field with his Dad to watch Robinson. A game that stuck out in his mind was one in 1954 between the Dodgers and the Milwaukee Braves. Robinson slid into third, colliding with Eddie Matthews, a white player rom Alabama. They got into a fist fight. Both Robinson and Matthews were kicked out of the game. "You see," Sussman said, "by 1954, Jackie had won respect. They allowed him to talk back.
Sussman, an avid baseball collector buys and sells baseball cards at Baseball Card conventions. He has nine of Jackie Robinson's cards. He said that the Jackie Robinson cards moved slowly, partly because of the high cost. (Robinsons rookie card sells for over a thousand dollars) and partly because card collectling is mostly a young people's hobby. And sadly enough, Sassman said, there are even young black black people who don't know who Jackie Robinson is."
Jim Greengrass knows who he is. That is for sure. Each summer Greengrass goes to Cincinatti for the annual Oldtimer's Reunion at Crosley field. "We get a bunch of oldtimers together and create our own Field of Dreams." Greengrass is thankful for his association with Jackie Robinson. "I never thought about whether Jackie was black or white," Greengrass recalled. "I just respected the man and his great ability."