I probably would have missed noting Jackie Robinson’s birthday today had it not been for a Facebook post by the Baseball Hall of Fame linking to Robinson’s page. Robinson, of course, broke the “color barrier” by becoming the first black to play major league baseball in the modern era.
Baseball today, with its polyglot roster drawn from several continents, has advanced a long way from when Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. A short while later, Larry Doby joined the Cleveland Indians to become the first black player in the American League, one of the first lessons in baseball history handed down to me by my father.
I was not old enough to witness first-hand the scorn and jeers those pioneering African-American players had heaped upon them in their early years in the league. But I saw a bit of it in the late 1960s when Dad took me to see the Indians host the Red Sox in old Municipal Stadium.
I was a schoolboy shortstop, and Dad liked to sit along the third baseline so he could point out to me how the shortstops – Rico Petrocelli and Larry Brown, I’m almost certain at this particular game – played their positions.
George Scott, a young black power hitter, was playing third base for the Sox. With good seats a few rows up from the field, I was locked into the game and oblivious to what was going on around me. In the middle innings, Dad grew agitated and I asked him what was bothering him.
A couple knucklehead fans behind us were jeering Scott, calling him a baboon and Lord knows what else. Cleveland was a heavily segregated and racially charged city in those days, and we had a terrible stretch of riots over several days in 1966.
Scott, outwardly at least, paid the guys riding him no heed. I can’t remember whether we moved to different seats or just left the game early (it might have been the second game of a “twi-night” doubleader). But I do remember Dad’s disgust at the racist behavior of those jackasses a few rows back.
They and their ilk are slipping away in time, forgotten.
We rightly remember Jackie Robinson, and always will.