After examining the “Top News Stories of the Century”, I was stunned to realize a glaring omission. Noticing the inclusion of Babe Ruth’s record-setting 60th home run in 1927, I scanned the list for other sports stories. Realizing that Ruth was the only sports story deemed significant enough to merit recognition, I contemplated which sports stories outweighed the “Sultan of Swat, Great Bambino” and twenty other nicknames appointed to Ruth in his illustrious career. This post will focus on merely one of the stories that I consider monumental, not only in sports, but in American history.
The legacy of Jackie Robinson and his shattering of the color barrier in professional baseball is unquestionably one of the top news stories of all-time. Remarkably, this life-altering event failed to crack the top 100, according to Newseum. Signed to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the immensely talented Robinson was initially shunned by fans and players, including his own teammates. The hateful actions of racist Americans were suddenly focused on an African-American baseball player, who just so happened to be one of the greatest the game had ever seen. Robinson burst onto the scene in his rookie year with phenomenal results on the field, earning Rookie of the Year honors. Two years later, he was named Most Valuable Player.
While Robinson was clearly an amazing player on the field, the real significance of his achievements went far beyond hits and home runs. The hostility and viciousness of what he endured throughout his baseball career are simply unimaginable. Nearly anyone who was forced to live under the conditions that Robinson regularly battled through would have quit after one day. He was constantly threatened with physical violence and even death. The choice to remain in pro sports endangered the lives of his family, yet he persevered. The indomitable courage of Jackie Robinson transcended sports, laying the foundation for diversity in all athletic competition. Yet, what Robinson accomplished was even more meaningful to American society. His unconquerable spirit has forever changed the country, and really, the entire world.
When researching newspaper coverage of Jackie Robinson, I found that reactions were varied. In a New York Times article in 1945 (two years prior to Robinson’s major league debut), Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey, the man credited with helping to break the color barrier by signing Robinson despite massive criticism, clarified his position. “I have not been pushed into this,” Rickey declared. “I signed Robinson in spite of the pressure-groups who are only exploiting the Negroes, instead of advancing their cause. I signed him because I knew of no reason why I shouldn’t. I want to win baseball games, and baseball is a game that is played by human beings.” And in a letter to Rickey in reference to the signing of Robinson, the president of the Negro Baseball League wrote “I feel that I speak the sentiments of fifteen million Negroes in America who are with you 100 percent and will always remember the day of this great event.”
Curiously, on the day of Robinson’s first major league regular season game, the New York Times did not deem the historic event headline worthy. According to ProQuest Historical Newspapers files for the Times, the headlines on April 15, 1947, did not include a story revolving around the first African-American to play Major League Baseball. In Brooklyn, New York for that matter! There was, however, a story on the Dodgers and opening day, which contained a brief section on Robinson, discussing the overwhelming pressure he would soon face. “Robinson almost has to be another DiMaggio in making good from the opening whistle. It’s not fair to him, but no one can do anything about it but himself. Pioneers never had it easy and Robinson, perforce, is a pioneer. It’s his burden to carry from now on and he must carry it alone.”
While this writer touches on some truthful points, he also epitomizes the ignorance of many white Americans during this time period. Why must he carry this burden alone? Should not other players, fans, and media do whatever they can to help his noble cause? The attitude of the writer is one of complacency, satisfied to sit back and observe as Jackie Robinson was tortured with death threats and humiliation throughout his baseball career, especially early on. How the incredible story of Jackie Robinson was not included among the top 100 stories of the century in unfathomable.
References - New York Times 1945-1947 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)