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”He Led America by Example” Jackie Robinson’s Debut, 72 Years Later

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was the day that Major League Baseball commemorated the day that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and along with future Civil Rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., helped begin a yet unfinished revolution in race relations and civil rights. Some of the things said about him and by him need to be quoted at the beginning of this article.

“He led America by example. He reminded our people of what was right and he reminded them of what was wrong. I think it can be safely said today that Jackie Robinson made the United States a better nation.” – American League President Gene Budig

“He knew he had to do well. He knew that the future of blacks in baseball depended on it. The pressure was enormous, overwhelming, and unbearable at times. I don’t know how he held up. I know I never could have.”  Duke Snider

“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”  Jackie Robins

“There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.” Jackie Robinson

Today is a day that we rightfully remembered the life, message, martyrdom and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However as much as Dr. King matters, there were a long line of African American heroes who in their own way helped bring about racial equality in this country.  While many toiled in obscurity one, a baseball player named Jackie Robinson would forever alter the playing field of racial relations and how African Americans were perceived and received in the United States.  April 15th 2019 was the 72nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game in the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn.  Robinson is not remembered with a National holiday but then again that takes noting away from this giant of American history. When Robinson stepped onto Ebbett’s Field in April 15th 1947 it was a watershed moment and while racial discrimination and prejudice remained they would be fighting a losing battle from that time on. Dr King in life and in death would be the one who drove the stake into the heart of the evil of racism and discrimination it was Jackie Robinson who helped place that stake above the heart of this evil.

The Negro Leagues: Jackie in his Kansas City Monarch Uniform

We celebrate Dr King’s legacy today. However, without Jackie Robinson and the other African American baseball players who broke into the big leagues in the late 1940s and early 1950s it is conceivable that Dr, King would never have had the opportunity not only to be heard by African Americans, but to have his message heard and taken to heart by white America.

By the time Dr. King arrived on the scene much had already been done, and much due to Robinson and the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey. Robinson’s first game with the Dodgers came a full year before President Truman integrated the military and a full seven years before the Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional.  It was not until 1964 that the Voters Rights act passed in Congress.  Jackie Robinson paved the way for a change in American society that has continued for 62 years since his debut at Ebbett’s Field on April 15th 1947.

Even before he stepped onto the field Jackie Robinson was a pioneer in equal rights where at UCLA he was the first student to letter in four varsity sports and in the Second World War where in an action that was a precursor to later civil rights battles the young Lieutenant Jackie Robinson was arrested and tried for not moving to the back of a bus at Fort Hood Texas.  He would be acquitted and given an honorable discharge before beginning his professional baseball career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League prior to Rickey signing him to a minor league contract with the Montreal Royals of the International League. Although he was met with scorn my many white baseball fans and some players and had to endure the ignominy of hostility from white fans and media, having to live in separate hotels and eat at separate restaurants Robinson developed a loyal fan base in Montreal and over a million people saw him play in his year in the International League.

Jackie in his Montreal Royals Uniform outside the Dodger’s Clubhouse

When Branch Rickey talked with Robinson before the season he said: “Jackie (Robinson), we’ve got no army. There’s virtually nobody on our side. No owners, no umpires, very few newspapermen. And I’m afraid that many fans will be hostile. We’ll be in a tough position. We can win only if we can convince the world that I’m doing this because you’re a great ballplayer, a fine gentleman.”

John Jorgensen, Pee Wee Reese, Ed Stanky and Jackie Robinson on opening day 1947

Jackie’s feat was a watershed moment in the history of our country.  Blacks had struggled for years against Jim Crow laws, discrimination in voting rights, and even simple human decencies such as where they could use a rest room, what hotels they could stay in or what part of the bus that they could sit.  In baseball many white fans were upset that blacks would be coming to see Robinson in stadiums that they would not have been allowed in before.  Players from other teams heckled Robinson, he received hate mail, people sent made death threats, and he was spiked and spit on.  But Jackie Robinson kept his pledge to Dodgers owner Branch Rickey not to lash out at his tormentors, as Rickey told him that he needed a man “with enough guts not to strike back.” In doing so his on field performance and poise under pressure won him the National League Rookie of the Year honor in 1947.

Jackie Stealing Home against the Yankees, the catcher is Yogi Berra

Jackie Robinson played the game with passion and even anger.  He took the advice of Hank Greenberg who as a Jew suffered continual racial epithets throughout his career “the best ways to combat slurs from the opposing dugout is to beat them on the field.” He would be honored as Rookie of the Year, was MVP, played in six World Series and six All Star Games.  He had a career .311 batting average, .409 on base percentage and a .474 Slugging percentage. He was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962. His teammate Pee Wee Reese would say: “Thinking about the things that happened, I don’t know any other ball player who could have done what he did. To be able to hit with everybody yelling at him. He had to block all that out, block out everything but this ball that is coming in at a hundred miles an hour. To do what he did has got to be the most tremendous thing I’ve ever seen in sports.”

Today Jackie Robinson’s feat is history, but it should not be forgotten.  He was a pioneer who made it possible for others to move forward.  He would be followed by players like Roy Campinella, Satchel Paige, Don Larson, Larry Dobie and Willie Mays.  His breakthrough had an effect not just on baseball but on society and helped make possible the later civil rights movement.  Dr. King would say of Jackie that he was “a legend and a symbol in his own time”, and that he “challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration.”  Historian Doris Kearns Godwin noted that Jackie’s “efforts were a monumental step in the civil-rights revolution in America” and that his “accomplishments allowed black and white Americans to be more respectful and open to one another and more appreciative of everyone’s abilities.” Time Magazine named him as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20thCentury.

<img src="https://padresteve.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/martin-luther-king-jr.jpg?w=500&h=578" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-2716" data-attachment-id="2716" data-permalink="https://padresteve.com/2010/01/18/jackie-robinson-and-dr-martin-luther-king-they-changed-america/martin-luther-king-jr/" data-orig-file="https://padresteve.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/martin-luther-king-jr.jpg?w=500&h=578" data-orig-size="500,578" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta="{"aperture":"0","credit":"AFP\/Getty Images","camera":"","caption":"The civil rights leader Martin Luther KIng (C) waves to supporters 28 August 1963 on the Mall in Washington DC (Washington Monument in background) during the \"March on Washington\". King said the march was \"the greatest demonstration of freedom in the history of the United States.\" Martin Luther King was assassinated on 04 April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. James Earl Ray confessed to shooting King and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. King's killing sent shock waves through American society at the time, and is still regarded as a landmark event in recent US history. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read -\/AFP\/Getty Images)","created_timestamp":"0","copyright":"2008 AFP","focal_length":"0","iso":"0","shutter_speed":"0","title":""}" data-image-title="martin-luther-king-jr" data-image-description="

The civil rights leader Martin Luther KIng (C) waves to supporters 28 August 1963 on the Mall in Washington DC (Washington Monument in background) during the “March on Washington”. King said the march was “the greatest demonstration of freedom in the history of the United States.” Martin Luther King was assassinated on 04 April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. James Earl Ray confessed to shooting King and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. King’s killing sent shock waves through American society at the time, and is still regarded as a landmark event in recent US history. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

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Dr Martin Luther King Jr “I have a dream”

We honor Dr King today and rightly so, but one can never forget those who paved the way so that we could all have the blessing of seeing Dr King’s dream come one step closer to fruition the dream that:

“one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that “children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” and that “one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”

Dr King would die by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis on the night of April 4th 1968 the day after finishing his final speech with these immortal remarks:

“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Let us never forget Dr King nor those like Jackie Robinson who helped pave the way for Dr King.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, civil rights, culture, History, Political Commentary

The Gift My Dad Gave to Me: Baseball and the Mystery of Life

The Big A

This post is an updated and edited version of an article that I published here in 2009.  It is something that I come back to often because it deals with my dad and the influence that he had on my life especially in giving me a gift, the gift of baseball something that almost more than anything else which been a bastion of peace since I returned from Iraq in 2008.

Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” George Will

Basketball, hockey and track meets are action heaped upon action, climax upon climax, until the onlooker’s responses become deadened.  Baseball is for the leisurely afternoons of summer and for the unchanging dreams.  Roger Kahn

Baseball has always been a source of enjoyment for me.  I’ve noted in numerous other posts that God speaks to me through baseball.  For me there is something mystical about the game.  It extends beyond the finite world in some respects and there is symmetry to the sport unlike any other.  George Will’s quote at the beginning of this post is dead on.  Not all holes or games are created equal.

Though I had played Little League Ball in the 1960s and well as a lot of backyard or sandlot games, it was during the 1970-1971 season when my dad began taking us to California Angels games while stationed in Long Beach California that the game really captured me.  The seed of course had been planted by him long before when we watched games on a black and white TV and going to see the Seattle Pilots in their inaugural and final season back in 1969 and in our back yard when he taught me to throw, field and run the bases. He tried to teach me to hit, but that didn’t work too well as I never hit above the Mendoza line in any organized league. The only mistake he made, a mistake that my kindergarten teacher also made was to turn me from a natural lefty to a right hander.  I think that this is one of the reasons that I am as warped as I am.  Bill “Spaceman” Lee once said “You have two hemispheres in your brain – a left and a right side. The left side controls the right side of your body and right controls the left half. It’s a fact. Therefore, left-handers are the only people in their right minds.” In a sense my mind has been at war with my body since kindergarten but at least I am in my right mind.  In spite of that he did turn me into a pretty good pitcher something that unfortunately my Little League coaches never noticed.

While my dad thrived on all sports, baseball was the one that he gave me as a gift.  He gave my brother golf, another spiritual game, which Zen master’s love.  But Gold is not to be compared with baseball because it is not a team sport though individual accomplishment is key to both and neither

Growing up with baseball was something that I cannot imagine have not done.  It was part of life from as far back as I can remember and this was because dad made it so.  It kind of reminds me of the beginning of the movie For the Love of the Game where home movies of a child playing ball with dad are shown during the opening credits and score.  I can close my eyes and remember vivid details of ball fields and backyards where dad would play catch with me play pepper and fungo and teach me to pitch.  He never did much with hitting except turn me around at the plate.  When I had him in a brief lucid moment when I visited in May of 2009 when he was markedly deteriorating from Alzheimer’s disease and I thanked him for teaching me to love the game. I told him I still heard his voice telling me to keep my butt down on ground balls and that he did not teach me to hit.  He simply said “you can’t teach someone to hit, it’s a gift, lots of people can’t hit.”

In 1970 we moved to Long Beach California where we lived about 15 minutes from Anaheim Stadium, the home of the then named California Angels.  Back then Anaheim Stadium was called “the Big A” due to the scoreboard shaped like a large “A” with a halo ringing the top in left center field.  Dad took us to more games than I can count and the times there were simply magical.  It was and still is a wonderful place to watch a game.  Back then access to players was easy.  I met players, got signed balls and hats, and was even selected as a runner up in the “My Favorite Angel” contest.  For that I met my favorite Angel, First Baseman Jim Spencer a Golden Glove Winner who later played for the White Sox and Yankees, and two tickets behind home plate.  Now I find that I have a hard time sitting anywhere except behind home plate and when I had season tickets at Norfolk’s Harbor Park that is where I sat.

When we moved to northern California we reconnected with the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s.  This was during the A’s dynasty years and we saw a number of games including an ALCS game against the Tigers.  To be able to watch the greats like Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Campy Campaneris and Vida Blue was awesome but our first love was the Giants.  We only occasionally got to Candlestick Park where they played in those days because it was a lot more difficult to get to from Stockton as opposed to Oakland.  Candlestick if you have ever been there is a miserable place to see a baseball game if for no other reason that it is colder than hell, if hell were cold.   One game we did see was Ed Halicki’s no-hitter against the Mets in 1975.

Me with Angel’s Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970

Minor League ball became a part of my life around the same time. While dad was deployed to Vietnam my mom would drop me off at Billy Herbert Field in Stockton California so I could see the Stockton Ports who at the time the California League single “A” affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.  Those games were always fun.  I remember talking to Orioles great Paul Blair when he visited a military base that I was serving and he told me how he remembered playing in Stockton as a minor leaguer.

In junior high school I switched to hockey and in high school football and never played organized baseball again falling to the temptation to do what the popular people were doing.  In college I played softball where I did hit better and I always longed to be either playing in or watching a game.  I did get to a few Dodger’s games when attending California State University at Northridge and although I am not a Dodger’s fan I remember their World Series comeback against the Yankees and I have always thought that Vin Scully painted the best verbal picture of a ballgame and season that has ever been done.

I like other sports but they do not hold me captive the way baseball does.  I think there is the nearly spiritual dimension baseball which gives it a timeless and sometimes other worldly dimension.  I find that other sports such as football, basketball, hockey and soccer are limited in this aspect.  Baseball yards are all different, with the exception of the infield dimensions there is a great variance allowed to designers.  The other sports are limited to rectangular playing surfaces of set dimensions determined by their leagues. With the exception of a few old hockey rinks which have smaller playing surfaces there is no individuality to these venues, save perhaps for team or sponsor logos and the quality of the seating.  Likewise all of the other sports play a set time clock which determines much of what happens during the game giving these sports an almost industrial feeling where baseball is not bound by time. In the other major team sports if a team gets way ahead early, it is likely that they will win the game.  While it is possible that a game could go into “overtime” the overtime in these games often has different rules than regulation time.  “Sudden death” “Shootouts” and truncated times show that these games are not meant to go past regulation time.  It is an aberration from what is considered “normal.” In these games a team with a big lead can simply sit on the ball and run out the clock.  

Baseball is not like that.  Legendary Orioles Manager Earl Weaver put it well: “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.” In order to win a baseball game you have to throw the ball over the plate and give the other team a chance to come back. A baseball game in theory might not ever end and I have been to a number that I thought had some eschatological dimensions.  W.P. Kinsella’s novel The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, depicts a game that is patently eschatological, though not in a pre-millennial dispensationalist manner between the 1908 Cubs and a semi-pro team in Iowa. The game which is recorded by a young man who steps into a time warp on a country road goes on for well over 2000 innings eventually provoking the intervention of a Native American deity.  In baseball the foul lines in theory go on for eternity and only the arbitrary placement of the outfield wall and the physical limitation of hitters keep the game within earthly limits.  I’m sure that the outfield in heaven is a lot more spacious and has a much more wonderful playing surface than is even imaginable for us on this terrestrial ball.

Baseball stadiums all have their own distinct design and personality. Save for the late 1960s and early 1970s when fascists took over the design of stadiums in order to make them suitable places to play football, baseball parks have had maintained their individuality.  It is a pity that some of the great parks have disappeared, Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium to name a few are gone but new parks have recaptured the magic.  Outfield dimensions, type of grass, the kind of infield and warning track soil which is used, are all determined by the team.  Some fields cater to hitters, others pitchers.  And with the overthrow of the stadium fascists at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, the baseball park regained its dignity.  Gone were the ugly, drab oval stadiums, fields covered in often shoddy artificial turf.  The unsightly and even hideous venues such as Riverfront, Three Rivers, Veteran’s Stadium and others, even dare I say the Astrodome and Kingdome were demolished and made nice piles of rubble, replaced by beautiful ballparks each with its own unique character that reflect the beauty of the game.

In 2009 and 2010 I was blessed to be a season ticket holder at Norfolk’s Harbor Park home of the Norfolk Tides.  Harbor Park was one of the first of the new generation of minor league parks and a wonderful place to see a game, or as I like to say “Worship at the Church of Baseball.”   When Harbor Park was built the Tides were affiliated with the New York Mets. As such the outfield dimensions are nearly identical to the former Shea Stadium, making it a very large yard and pitchers playground.  The outfield backs up to the East Fork of the Elizabeth River, shipyards and bridges dominate the view.  There is not a bad seat in the house.

With every home game the gift that my father gave me begins to unfolded again as I gazed in wonderment at the diamond.  This year is different; my dad passed away last year but up to a year before his death he still knew enough of what was going on to talk about baseball, especially the San Francisco Giants while  bad mouthing the American League. Dad was always National League fan and he loathes the designated hitter. He used to call the American League the “minor league.”  Likwise I do not have my season tickets in Norfolk since I am now stationed at Camp LeJeune North Carolina, but I will get up to a number of games including Norfolk’s home opener next Saturday.

When I was a child he told me stories about the greats of his childhood and he was an avid fan of Pete Rose, he loved his high intensity play and hustle, something that he passed on to me. I can still recall him yelling at me to “get your butt down,” “stay in front of the ball,” “hustle down the line any time you hit the ball” and “don’t be afraid to run over a catcher or go in hard to break up a double play.”   Rose’s banishment from baseball for gambling hit him hard.  I guess it was for him like the banishment of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and for me the agony of the Steroid Era which was a stain on game but now is now history. Unfortunately it is being used by self-righteous politicians a bureaucrats to make baseball and baseball players look bad so they can look good.   At this point I say reinstate Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose and stop with the endless illegal leaks of documents and alleged positive tests of players whose names are being leaked out one or two at a time.  I think my dad would say the same now, if only he could.

Tomorrow I will take in an afternoon game at Grainger Stadium in Kinston North Carolina. It is the home of the Kinston Indians, or the K-Tribe, the Advanced Single “A” affiliate of the Cleveland Indians in the Carolina League. It will be nice to take in a game, even if not at Norfolk.

Dad gave me a gift, a gift called the game, the game of baseball.  Sure, it’s only just a game.  Right… Baseball is only a game in the sense of the Grand Canyon just being a hole in the ground and the Pacific Ocean a pond.  I’m sure that the Deity Herself must agree.

Peace, Steve+

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Bobby Thomson and the Shot Heard Round the World

Baseball great Bobby Thomson died yesterday at the age of 86 at his home in Savannah Georgia after a long illness.  Thomson was immortalized when he hit the “Shot heard round the World” for the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 3rd 1951 to cap an epic comeback in the final game of a playoff to see which team would face the New York Yankees in the 1951 World Series.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrI7dVj90zs&feature=player_embedded

Baseball has many memorable moments but few are more memorable than the home run hit by Bobby Thomson to clinch the 1951 National League Pennant for the New York Giants, before they were the San Francisco Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 3rd 1951.

As anyone who reads this site knows Padre Steve is a Giants fan and believes that the Dodgers and about everything associated with them are evil.  I cannot call myself a “Dodger hater” for in spite of all I admire the history of the franchise and many of the players that played for or managed the team that I call the “Evil Dodgers.”  Given a choice if the Dodgers were in the World’s series against anyone other than the A’s, Angels or possible the Yankees, Rangers or Rays I would probably hope that they won. I must add the caveat that this would be condition if I felt that the Dodgers had won the National League Pennant by some underhanded means or that the Giants really deserved to be in the series. It would be as painful for me to cheer them on as it would for me as a UCLA Bruin (ROTC) alum to root for Troy Tech (USC) when they against the Ohio State University Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl. It would be painful but there are exceptions to every rule.

For a baseball fan, any baseball fan what the Giants did in 1951 and Thomson’s roll in that final game of a 3 game playoff after a dramatic end to the regular season that left the teams tied was and is an epic story.  It is considered the most famous home run ever hit and is called “the shot heard ‘round the world.”  The Giants trailed the Dodgers in the pennant race by 13 ½ games on August 11th but went 37-7 to force a playoff against their blood rivals from Brooklyn.  In the final game of the series the Dodgers were up 4-1 in the 9th inning and things looked bleak for the Giants who had not generated much offense against Dodger’s pitchers during the game. Thomson’s 3 run homer off reliever Ralph Branca with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th to left field just above the 315’ marker at the Polo Grounds capped a 4 run rally to give the Giants one of the most fabled victories in all of sports history.

The rally was in keeping with the season for the Giants.  The rally started with a single by Alvin Dark who was followed by Don Mueller who singled to send Dark to third.  Monte Ervin who had led the league with 121 RBIs popped out.  Whitely Lockman doubled to score Dark and put runners on second and third with 1 out.  Dodgers’ starting pitcher Don Newcombe who was showing signs of overuse in the closing days of the season was pulled from the game obviously spent.  He was replaced by Ralph Branca who had given up a game winning home run to Thomson in game one of the series and surrendered several others to him in the regular season.  Branca was picked because Dodgers’ bullpen coach Clyde Sukeforth saw Carl Erskine bouncing his curveball in front of the plate and instructed manager Charlie Dressen to send in Branca.  The move would cost Sukeforth his job shortly after the season ended.

Branca’s first pitch was a fastball down the middle that Thomson took for a strike.  Branca came back with another fastball up and in and Thomson ripped a line drive that cleared the wall just above the 315’ marker in left. Andy Pafko chase the ball to the wall hoping that it would not clear it and as Thomson hopped and skipped around the bases with only Jackie Robinson remaining on the field for the Dodgers making sure that Thomson touched all the bases.  Waiting on deck was another legendary Giant named Willie Mays who with the rest of the team mobbed Thomson as he touched home plate.

Giants’ radio Broadcaster Russ Hodges calling the game on WMCA-AM radio immortalized the hit:

“Bobby Thomson… up there swingin’… He’s had two out of three, a single and a double, and Billy Cox is playing him right on the third-base line… One out, last of the ninth… Branca pitches… Bobby Thomson takes a strike called on the inside corner… Bobby hitting at .292… He’s had a single and a double and he drove in the Giants’ first run with a long fly to center… Brooklyn leads it 4-2…Hartung down the line at third not taking any chances… Lockman  with not too big of a lead at second, but he’ll be runnin’ like the wind if Thomson hits one… Branca throws… [audible sound of bat meeting ball]

There’s a long drive… it’s gonna be, I believe…THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they’re goin’ crazy, they’re goin’ crazy! HEEEY-OH!!!” [ten-second pause for crowd noise]

I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! I do not believe it! Bobby Thomson… hit a line drive… into the lower deck… of the left-field stands… and this blame place is goin’ crazy! The Giants! Horace Stoneham has got a winner! The Giants won it… by a score of 5 to 4… and they’re pickin’ Bobby Thomson up… and carryin’ him off the field!”

Legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell called the game and the shot on WPIX-TV which was being telecast nationally.  It has been immortalized in various cultural and entertainment venues, I remember it in the TV series M*A*S*H episode “A War for All Seasons” where Corporal Klinger (Jamie Farr) persuades the non-baseball fan Major Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers)to bet heavily on the Dodgers winning the pennant and with the unit watching the game film with Hodges’ recorded commentary Winchester cut his way through the screen shouting “Where is that Lebanese Mongoose?”

The Giants would go on the World Series against the Yankees losing in 6 games to the Bronx Bombers but that series has been overshadowed in history by the “Shot heard round the world.”

In 2001 Wall Street Journal reporter Joshua Prager reported that the Giants had been stealing signs enabling batters to know what pitch was coming. While this was confirmed by a number of Giant’s players Thomson himself said that he had no foreknowledge of the pitch. Sign stealing was a common practice by many teams since the inception of the sport and has never been outlawed by Major League Baseball. The ball itself has never been found with one writer determining that a Franciscan nun recovered the ball and kept it in a shoebox until her death bequeathing it to her sister who deposited the box in a landfill.  Obviously the sister was a Dodgers’ fan.

Thomson was born in Glasgow Scotland and immigrated to the US with his parents when he was 2 years old growing up in Staten Island and served in the Army Air Force in the Second World War. He played 14 years in the Major Leagues and after retirement worked for a paper company.  He would remain a lifelong friend of Ralph Branca appearing at card shows and other baseball events.  Thomson retired in 1960 finishing his final season in Major League Baseball with the Baltimore Orioles but would play one last season in 1963 with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. He hit .270 for his career with 264 home runs and 1026 RBIs and was elected to 3 All-Star teams.  A Scottish baseball team the Edinburgh Diamond Devils named their field “Bobby Thomson Field” in 2003 when he was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame.

As for Branca he remembered the shot as well and the long walk to his car where his wife waited. “I remember going out to the parking lot. Ann was in the car with a friend of ours, Father Paul Rowley from Fordham. And I said to Father Rowley, ‘Why me? Why did this have to happen to me?’ And Father Rowley said, ‘God gave you this cross to bear because you’re strong enough to bear it.'”

For me the timeless memorial of this event, besides the Giants defeating the Evil Dodgers is the testament to friendship and the understanding that things are never over until they are over. Ask the 1951 Giants.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11

One of my customs on my way to work is to stop by my local 7-11 for a cup of French Vanilla Coffee with 3 French Vanilla coffee creamers, course brown sugar and a packet of Splenda when I pick up my garden salad which I consume for lunch at work.  It is always a nice break for me on the way to work to smell the fresh coffee and take the time to prepare my cup of coffee exactly the way that I like it, which by the way before Iraq was not like this.  Back before Iraq I always drank it black with no cream or sugar but alas all good things…right?  Anyway as I was saying on this particular day I went to my neighborhood 7-11 to get my coffee and my salad the usual blue collar crowd was getting their coffee as I walked in with my orange and black trimmed retro-Baltimore Orioles Cal Ripken Junior jersey and home black and orange billed cap with the traditional Oriole on the front.  I am a stickler for tradition and though every major league team have caps that little resemble the on the field caps in various colors and designs I refuse to wear any but the authentic head gear, preferably a New Era Wool 59/50 fitted cap or the 39/30 batting practice cap.  This kind of sets me apart from most customers who if they wear baseball gear wear the non-regulation stuff of winning teams like the Yankees or Red Sox but I digress.

On this particular morning there was a man that walked in as I was preparing my cup of coffee a man walked up beside me.  He was about 5’ 8” and looked like that he was from Lebanon or somewhere else in to Middle East.  I say Lebanon because I have known many Lebanese my mind went that way.  I noticed that his hands were rough hewn and had some very nasty looking scars in them and he wore a pair of sports sandals much like the kind that I wear from which I could see some scars on either foot.  He was wearing what appeared to be a retro “Cooperstown Classic” California Angels “CA” cap with the red bill and halo as well as a late 1960s or early 1970s Angel’s jersey which appeared to be game worn with the number “7” sewn on the back.

As I put my first creamer into my coffee he turned and looked at me and asked “Orioles fan?” Now I frequently get comments about whatever baseball apparel that I wear, especially the Orioles and the comments general reflect a certain pity due to the sad state of the franchise and especially the performance this year.  I said “Yes sir, one of the faithful.”

He chuckled and said, “Someone has to remain faithful to the Orioles, God love ‘em, they have been a great franchise and all of great teams the Hall of Famers that they have produced.” He shook his head “You just keep being faithful, they’re just going through some pretty hard times right now….by the way, I’m a baseball fan too, would you guess an Angels’ fan?”

“We’ll sir that goes without saying; I don’t think that I have seen a game worn 1970s Angels’ jersey since my dad used to take us to the “Big A” to see them as kids.  We went to games down there all the time; it’s where I really came to love the game of baseball.”

“Yes my friend there is something special about baseball, it’s really good when dads get their kids involved in the game.” He paused.  “Oh the jersey, this jersey does date me a little; I’ve always been an Angels’ fan, even before they were in Anaheim.”

“So you were a Los Angeles Angels fan too?”

“We’ll yeah, in a way, but even before that considering that I created them.”

I was tearing the foil top off of the third creamer when he said that and I kind of lost control of the container and spilled in on the stainless steel counter.  As I stood there feeling quite inept he said, “Sorry man, my fault I’ll get that” and as my wondering eyes stared in disbelief he waved his rough hewn and scarred hand gently about a foot off of the counter and to my amazement the white creamer disappeared from the countertop revealing a perfectly clean and shiny surface as the little blue cup that it was in sailed into the trash receptacle’s round hole in the top of the counter.

He continued to talk as he poured a cup of 7-11 “Heavenly Blend” coffee into a 24 ounce cup, and another 24 ounce cup and yet another 24 ounce cup handing them to other customers as he did so and miraculously the coffee pot remained full as he kept pouring until all the customers and counter staff each had a cup of coffee. “So anyway like I was saying back when I created the Angels baseball was different, no steroids, players stayed with a team forever unless perhaps it wasn’t God’s will.  If it wasn’t then you never knew what might happen.”

I stood by dumbly looking at this diminutive man with the scarred hands and feet pouring out cup after cup of coffee from the bottomless pot of coffee and I was I was quite impressed with his performance and said: “Sir that is impressive I’ve never seen the pot remain full like that before though being poured out into many cups, 24 ounce cups at that.”

He chuckled and said “Steve, I tell you what it’s all in the wrist, all in the wrist.” His eyes sparkled in amusement at my dismay as I stammered “But how did you know my name?”

“But I should since you know me.”

“I know you?” I asked. “Have we served together in the military?”

“No not that, kind of like Church work, you kind of work for me even though you’re in the Navy.”

“How did you know I was in the Navy?”

“Well duh… Steve, this is Norfolk, what else is here?” Looking at me with a amused but slightly more serious glance he said “Hey, I helped get you in the Navy when the Army told you to pound sand about going onto active duty.”

“You weren’t my recruiter, or the Chaplain that interviewed me and you are way too short to be Bishop Doug.”

“Think higher and bigger Steve, let your mind open up a little bit.” He paused “Like you did notice my hands and feet didn’t you?”

“Well yeah…but I really haven’t woken up until I get that first cup of coffee in me and well a lot of people have scars on their hands….” And then it hit me.  “Oh, my God, you’re Jesus.”

“Of course I am and yes I am your God, so you’re right there too…it took you a little bit now you’re cooking with gas.”

“But this is like 7-11?”

“Yeah I know, I like the coffee and the people are pretty down to earth, they tend to appreciate when someone does something nice for them, even if it is God.”

“We’ll I come here for the same reasons.”

“Well at least you’ve learned something.” He paused, put his hand on my shoulder and said “Finish foo-fooing your coffee and come with me; I want you to meet some of my friends.”  He turned and said to May the Filipina behind the counter “May, how much do I owe you for everything?”

“Mr. Jesus sir that is $84.35 with tax” said the short and slightly heavy set lady at the cash register.

“May, put it on the card” said the Lord.

“You got it Mr. Jesus” said the cheery Filipina at the register and without any transaction that my failing eyes could see the cashier rang up Jesus and miraculously the bill was paid in full. Since this Padre Steve believes in miracles but is not necessarily seeing them at 7-11 in as many varied forms as the rather unbiblical, or shall I say rather earthy and dare I say contemporary looking Lord was performing in my humble neighborhood 7-11.

“You know her?”

“Of course I do Steve, I know my people and I love them, didn’t you read that in your Bible somewhere?”

Well…uh…yes I think I have….somewhere in the Gospels, I am never good at quoting chapter and verse.”

“Unless it is the latest Tides box score, right?”

“Jesus, that’s really not fair, you do that too I’m sure.”

“Yeah, but can’t get away from it and you a Priest or do I have to remind you?”

“I guess.”

“That’s better, thank you, let’s meet my friends.”

I walked out the door and a number of guys who also looked a tad on the Lebanese or Arabic side of the house were gathered around a extended Chevy suburban.  I looked at the vehicle and asked Jesus “this belongs to you?”

The Lord drew the brim of his cap back revealing a bit of his forehead shook his head and said “Steve, Steve, I own everything, but this belongs to Peter over there, he has a thing for them.” A burley man with a pony-tail, curly flowing beard a tattoo of a fish on his forearm and a New York Yankees cap waved at me and said “Dude, where does Jesus know you from, you and that loser Orioles gear that you have on.” A number of others in Yankee caps laughed and slapped the big man on the back.

“Peter, remember the first shall be last, one day what comes around goes around, don’t forget the CBS years in New York.”

“Oh, don’t remind me of that boss, that sucked, we didn’t win anything back then.”  The men around in Yankees caps also stopped laughing and looked down.

“Anyway, Steve, meet the boys, you’ve already met Peter, but this is James and his brother John” both wore Oakland Athletics caps and matching Kelly green T-shirts, “they call them the sons of thunder because of their hitting ability, some call them the Bash brothers but don’t tell Canseco and McGuire, I think they have a patent on that.”

I extended my hand “nice to meet you” and the brothers greeted me in a cheery manner.

“Over here is Old James, some people call him the elder and he’s not got much left in the legs but is a good DH.” He paused and looked across the way where on the other side of the hood of the suburban two other guys stood, one had a Red Sox hat, another a Reds cap and one a Nationals hat.  “Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, this is Steve, he’s a brother.”

One of the young men a bit on the thin side wearing the Nationals hat called out “Brother! Jesus how can you say that? Can anything good come out of Baltimore?”

“Nat, knock it off until Strasburg and Storen win you a pennant you ain’t got room to talk.” He looked to the front of the store where a number of others talked among themselves eating breakfast burritos and drinking coffee.  “Hey guys come and introduce you to Steve; he’s a Navy Chaplain and a Priest.”

“Priest huh? I doubt that he’s got an Orioles jersey on” called out a smallish man in a Cubs hat.

“Steve forgive him, he doubts everyone.” Looking at the Cubs fan he said “Thomas must you, haven’t we had this talk already?” He then introduced the others.  One was a man without a ball cap that was wearing a sports jacket and had a briefcase. “This is Matthew, our tax attorney, used to work for the IRS, glad to have him in the front office, not everyone needs to be on the field do they buddy?” Jesus pointed at another one of the men and said “this over here is Simon the Zealot.” Simon wore a Tigers cap and Jesus looked at me and said “he’s pretty fanatical plays hard every day, a lot like Ty Cobb.”  Another was beside these men, a man in a Cardinals cap, rather quiet and reserved looked up and said hello to me. Jesus said “that’s Thaddeus, he’s a Rays fan, forgot his cap today.”

I looked at Jesus and said “don’t you have twelve guys on the road squad?”

Jesus wiped his brow as the sun began to heat up the porch of the 7-11 and said “oh yeah, let me show you some pictures they aren’t here today.  He pulled out his wallet and showed me a picture of a shifty looking man wearing a Dodgers’ cap and matching jersey, game worn.  “This is Judas, he used to handle the money on road trips, got us into a bunch of trouble and wouldn’t you know it took money to double cross the boss. I really loved him but knew that he would try something, in fact last spring we were out here and had a light breakfast over at Krispy Kreme.”

“The one on Virginia Beach Boulevard?” I asked.

“Jesus replied “that’s the one partner, love them when they have the hot original glazed don’t you?”

I replied in the affirmative and Jesus continued. “You see I trusted Judas with a lot but the guy was greedy, tried to say that I was doin’ ‘roids to get my powers wanting to take their jobs and turned me in, it wasn’t .  Before he took the 30 grand for his effort he dunked his donut in my coffee and took off when he knew that I knew. Of course they arrested me and didn’t even put the case to a real judge but a bunch of legislators, lawyers and preachers.  Well, the poor guy felt badly when they convicted me and hanged his self from the Ebbetts field foul pole when they wouldn’t take the money back or let me go.  It was sad my friend, just sad.”

“But you did get a draft pick for him didn’t you?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, Matthias was one of the picks, he actually made the starting team, the guys liked him and choose him while I was away and of course there’s the player that I picked up, took him right off the other team like the Yankees did Johnny Damon a few years back.”

“Is that Paul?” I asked as I looked at the picture of an elegant looking man in a Padres’ uniform.

“Sure the heck is buddy, and that guy was a find, not much of a sense of humor but a trooper on the road sometimes hard to work with but one of the best eyes for a pitch, especially after the scales came off that you could imagine, great judge of talent even though Barnabas, another All-Star mind you had a falling out with him.  Heck he even wrote a lot of the rule book. He calls him as he sees them; he even called Peter on the carpet at a big shindig. Didn’t he Pete?” Peter mumbled something under his breath and looked away.

“You gotta love guys like Pete, heck I even gave him a set of keys, he’s not perfect but I trust him” Jesus said as he looked me in the eye.

“So with all of these all stars why do you want someone like me?”

“Steve, come on how long have you known me now? Most of your life isn’t it?”

I looked down and said, “yeah Lord, it’s been a long time.”

“Have I given up on you partner?”

“No.”

“When you were going through all those hard times and wondered where I was when you came back from Iraq did I give up on you?”

“No Lord.”

“Stop with the Lord stuff, I get that all the time back at the home office. By the way since you insist that God speaks to you through baseball you might as well know that he does. So you can consider this a little encouragement and you can call me ‘Skip’ if you want but lay off the Lord thing once in a while, everybody does it and the people who punctuate every little prayer with “Lord” eighteen times during the prayer really get pretty annoying after a while, not that I stop listening or caring but I know my name, besides I’m pretty secure in who I am.”

“Okay Skip.” I looked up at him and and smiled.  As I did this he put his hand on my shoulder like a good manager talking to a no name journeyman said “don’t forget just who you are playing for, do well but know that you belong on my team. I have some plans for you.”

“Thanks Skip, that’s pretty encouraging coming from you.”

“No prob friend, no problem whasoever.”

I’ve been a Priest and chaplain for what seems like forever but I felt like a rookie pitcher on the mound getting the talk from the manager to make sure that I had my stuff together. Maybe I needed it. I looked at my watch.

“Oh Lord, I mean Skip I’ve got to get to work, I’m going to be late as it is and with all the times that I had trouble sleeping and not waking up I don’t need to be late, the boss would never believe this one.”

Jesus smiled at me, waved his hand and the sun went back a little way to the east and I looked at my watch and the time was nearly a hour earlier than it was just a few seconds before.

“How’s that?”

“Thanks Skip, that really helps.”  I stuttered in true thanksgiving as I knew that no one would believe this story in a million years.

“Steve you take care, do good, I’ll keep checking on you. Keep your eye on the ball, keep your butt down on the grounders and stay in front of the ball. Take care of the rookies and make sure that the veterans in their declining years get the recognition that they deserve and don’t forget their families, they matter too.  Keep spreading the good news too, so much bad news around the earth even I had to turn off all the Cable News channels, even the one that says that they are fair and balanced, so much negativity it makes your head swim.”

I began to walk to my car and Jesus said, your coffee is probably cold by now so go get a refill on me and don’t worry about the time I just opened the HOV to all traffic, the Downtown tunnel is clear and there’s a glitch in the State Troopers radar systems.

I offered my profuse thanks, especially for the help in the traffic and as I took off the lid to my refill mug I noticed that it was full of fresh hot coffee just the way I liked it.  Jesus and the boys got into the extra large Suburban with Peter behind the wheel Thomas loaded a couple of equipment bags in the back of the truck and as they pulled out I shouted out “just where are you guys going now?” Jesus rolled down his window and said “Dyersville Iowa, I hear they have a special baseball field there and some great players too.”

“Skip, I think that you’ll like it there.”

“Thanks Steve and take care, keep up the faith down at the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish and don’t lose faith in the O’s” and with that Peter put the truck in gear and pointed at his Yankee hat as he backed the truck out of the parking space. they exited the parking lot onto the street leading to I-264 and as they rolled down the road the Suburban disappeared in a vapor trail and they were gone.

I got into my trusty 2001 Honda CR-V put the coffee in the cup holder and closed the door. I said a quick prayer of thanks and turned the key.  “What a deal, it’s not every day that you meet Jesus in 7-11.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles, christian life, purely humorous, Religion

Jackie Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King they Changed America

“He led America by example. He reminded our people of what was right and he reminded them of what was wrong. I think it can be safely said today that Jackie Robinson made the United States a better nation.” – American League President Gene Budig

“He knew he had to do well. He knew that the future of blacks in baseball depended on it. The pressure was enormous, overwhelming, and unbearable at times. I don’t know how he held up. I know I never could have.”Duke Snider

“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”  Jackie Robinson

“There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.” Jackie Robinson

Today is a day that we rightfully remembered the life, message, martyrdom and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However as much as Dr. King matters, there were a long line of African American heroes who in their own way helped bring about racial equality in this country.  While many toiled in obscurity one, a baseball player named Jackie Robinson would forever alter the playing field of racial relations and how African Americans were perceived and received in the United States.  April 15th 2010 will be the 63rd anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game in the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn.  Robinson is not remembered with a National holiday but then again that takes noting away from this giant of American history. When Robinson stepped onto Ebbett’s Field in April 15th 1947 it was a watershed moment and while racial discrimination and prejudice remained they would be fighting a losing battle from that time on. Dr King in life and in death would be the one who drove the stake into the heart of the evil of racism and discrimination it was Jackie Robinson who helped place that stake above the heart of this evil.

The Negro Leagues: Jackie in his Kansas City Monarch Uniform

We celebrate Dr King’s legacy today. However, without Jackie Robinson and the other African American baseball players who broke into the big leagues in the late 1940s and early 1950s it is conceivable that Dr, King would never have had the opportunity not only to be heard by African Americans, but to have his message heard and taken to heart by white America.

By the time Dr. King arrived on the scene much had already been done, and much due to Robinson and the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey. Robinson’s first game with the Dodgers came a full year before President Truman integrated the military and a full seven years before the Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional.  It was not until 1964 that the Voters Rights act passed in Congress.  Jackie Robinson paved the way for a change in American society that has continued for 62 years since his debut at Ebbett’s Field on April 15th 1947.

Even before he stepped onto the field Jackie Robinson was a pioneer in equal rights where at UCLA he was the first student to letter in four varsity sports and in the Second World War where in an action that was a precursor to later civil rights battles the young Lieutenant Jackie Robinson was arrested and tried for not moving to the back of a bus at Fort Hood Texas.  He would be acquitted and given an honorable discharge before beginning his professional baseball career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League prior to Rickey signing him to a minor league contract with the Montreal Royals of the International League. Although he was met with scorn my many white baseball fans and some players and had to endure the ignominy of hostility from white fans and media, having to live in separate hotels and eat at separate restaurants Robinson developed a loyal fan base in Montreal and over a million people saw him play in his year in the International League.

Jackie in his Montreal Royals Uniform outside the Dodger’s Clubhouse

When Branch Rickey talked with Robinson before the season he said: “Jackie (Robinson), we’ve got no army. There’s virtually nobody on our side. No owners, no umpires, very few newspapermen. And I’m afraid that many fans will be hostile. We’ll be in a tough position. We can win only if we can convince the world that I’m doing this because you’re a great ballplayer, a fine gentleman.”

John Jorgensen, Pee Wee Reese, Ed Stanky and Jackie Robinson on opening day 1947

Jackie’s feat was a watershed moment in the history of our country.  Blacks had struggled for years against Jim Crow laws, discrimination in voting rights, and even simple human decencies such as where they could use a rest room, what hotels they could stay in or what part of the bus that they could sit.  In baseball many white fans were upset that blacks would be coming to see Robinson in stadiums that they would not have been allowed in before.  Players from other teams heckled Robinson, he received hate mail, people sent made death threats, and he was spiked and spit on.  But Jackie Robinson kept his pledge to Dodgers owner Branch Rickey not to lash out at his tormentors, as Rickey told him that he needed a man “with enough guts not to strike back.” In doing so his on field performance and poise under pressure won him the National League Rookie of the Year honor in 1947.

Jackie Stealing Home against the Yankees, the catcher is Yogi Berra

Jackie Robinson played the game with passion and even anger.  He took the advice of Hank Greenberg who as a Jew suffered continual racial epithets throughout his career “the best ways to combat slurs from the opposing dugout is to beat them on the field.” He would be honored as Rookie of the Year, was MVP, played in six World Series and six All Star Games.  He had a career .311 batting average, .409 on base percentage and a .474 Slugging percentage. He was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962. His teammate Pee Wee Reese would say: “Thinking about the things that happened, I don’t know any other ball player who could have done what he did. To be able to hit with everybody yelling at him. He had to block all that out, block out everything but this ball that is coming in at a hundred miles an hour. To do what he did has got to be the most tremendous thing I’ve ever seen in sports.”

Today Jackie Robinson’s feat is history, but it should not be forgotten.  He was a pioneer who made it possible for others to move forward.  He would be followed by players like Roy Campinella, Satchel Paige, Don Larson, Larry Dobie and Willie Mays.  His breakthrough had an effect not just on baseball but on society and helped make possible the later civil rights movement.  Dr. King would say of Jackie that he was “a legend and a symbol in his own time”, and that he “challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration.”  Historian Doris Kearns Godwin noted that Jackie’s “efforts were a monumental step in the civil-rights revolution in America” and that his “accomplishments allowed black and white Americans to be more respectful and open to one another and more appreciative of everyone’s abilities.” Time Magazine named him as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th Century.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr “I have a dream”

We honor Dr King today and rightly so, but one can never forget those who paved the way so that we could all have the blessing of seeing Dr King’s dream come one step closer to fruition the dream that:

“one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that “children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” and that “one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”

Dr King would die by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis on the night of April 4th 1968 the day after finishing his final speech with these immortal remarks:

“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Let us never forget Dr King nor those like Jackie Robinson who helped pave the way for Dr King.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, History, Political Commentary

Here’s to you Jackie Robinson

“He led America by example. He reminded our people of what was right and he reminded them of what was wrong. I think it can be safely said today that Jackie Robnson made the United States a better nation.” – American League President Gene Budig

“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”  Jackie Robinson

April 15th 2009 was the 62nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game in the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn.  Robinson’s first game with the Dodgers came a full year before President Truman integrated the military and a full seven years before the Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional.  It was not until 1964 that the Voters Rights act passed in Congress.  Jackie Robinson paved the way for a change in American society that has continued for 62 years since his debut at Ebbetts Field on April 15th 1947.

Jackie’s feat was a watershed moment in the history of our country.  Blacks had struggled for years against Jim Crow laws, discrimination in voting rights, and even simple human decencies such as where they could use a rest room, what hotels they could stay in or what part of the bus that they could sit.  In baseball many white fans were upset that blacks would be coming to see Robinson in stadiums that they would not have been allowed in before.  Players from other teams heckled Robinson, he received hate mail, people sent made death threats, he was spiked and spit on.  But Jackie Robinson kept his pledge to Dodgers owner Branch Rickey not to lash out at his tormentors, as Rickey told him that he needed a man “with enough guts not to strike back.”

Jackie Robinson played the game with passion and even anger.  He took the advice of Hank Greenberg who as a Jew suffered continual racial epithets throughout his career “the best ways to combat slurs from the opposing dugout is to beat them on the field.” He would be honored as Rookie of the Year, was MVP, played in six World Series and six All Star Games.  He had a career .311 batting average, .409 on base percentage and .474 Slugging percentage. He was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962.

Today Jackie Robinson’s feat is history, but it should not be forgotten.  He was a pioneer who made it possible for others to move forward.  He would be followed by players like Roy Campinella, Satchel Paige, Don Larson, Larry Dobie and   Willie Mays.  His breakthrough had an effect not just on baseball but on society.

Jackie Robinson would have an effect on my life.  In 1975 the Stockton Unified School District voted to desegrigate.  I was in the 9th grade and preparing for high school.  As the school board wrestled with the decision anger boiled throughout the town, especially in the more affluent areas.  Vicious letters were sent to the school board and to the Stockton Record by parents as well as other opponents of the move.  Threats of violence and predictions failure were commonplace.  In the summer of 1975 those who went out for the football team, both the sophomore and varsity squads began to practice.  Black, White, Mexican and Asian, we bonded as a team, the Edison Vikings.  By the time the first buses pulled up to the bus stops throughout town on the first day of school, the sense of foreboding ended.  Students of all races discovered common interests and goals.  New friends became guests in each others homes, and all of us became “Soul Vikes.”

30 years later the Class of 1978, the first class to be desegregated from start to finish graduated from Edison held a reunion.  Our class always had a special feel about it.  Looking back we too were pioneers, like Jackie Robinson we were far ahead of our time.  When I look at my friends on Facebook from Edison I see the same faces that I played ball, rode the bus and went to class with.   Things have changed.  Even 30 years ago none of us imagined a African American President, we believed in each other and we saw potential, but I don’t think that anyone believed that we would see this in our day.

I think that Jackie Robinson prepared the way for other pioneers of Civil Rights including Dr. Martin Luther King.  Today, 62 years plus one day, Jackie Robinson looms large not only in baseball, but for the impact of his life and actions on America.  Here’s to you Jackie Robinson.  Thank you and God bless.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, History, Loose thoughts and musings