Jackie Robinson Must Love This World Series
The only time I ever interviewed Jackie Robinson, he bawled me out.
This is true. I was a 20-something reporter for Newsday and my boss assigned me to write an article about why there were no African-American managers in baseball.
Naturally, I needed to talk to Jackie Robinson, long out of baseball and doing community work for Chock Full o' Nuts.
I arranged to call him, I believe at home, and at the appointed hour I rang and began to ask him why, two decades after his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, there had never been a black manager. (Buck O’Neil and Gene Baker had been the first two black coaches earlier in the 60s.)
Robinson turned the conversation around.
“Let me ask you something,” he said, as I recall it from long ago. “How many blacks are there in the sports department?”
Uh…..none, Mr. Robinson.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” he said, or something like that, insisting that opportunity was a far greater issue than just for baseball managers.
Robinson’s tone was cranky, but it sounded like a hymn to me. I knew the man, from reading Dick Young and Milton Gross and Jimmy Cannon as a kid. This was why Robinson was a hero to me and my family, in Queens.
(I told that story to Rachel Robinson a few years back and she flashed that gorgeous smile and said, “That sounds like Jack.”)
Robinson died in Oct. 24, 1972, just after the World Series. He was 53 years old, broken by diabetes and the car-crash death of his son and namesake a year before. (Don Newcombe and others believe Robinson’s system suffered from the stress of being The First.)
(Please see Dave Anderson's article from 1972.)
Frank Robinson, a kindred soul and now a fellow Hall of Fame member, no relation, would become the first African-American manager two years later.
Now so-called minority managers are hired and fired just like anybody. Dusty Baker, one of the great people, has moved all over the place. (Hey, Washington Nationals, how did sacking Dusty work out?)
And now, 2018. The World Series will commence on Tuesday with Alex Cora from Puerto Rico and Dave Roberts, half African-American, half Japanese, managing Robinson’s transplanted team, the Los Angeles Dodgers – the first minority manager of the Dodgers, in fact.
(My friend Al Campanis, who taught Jackie Robinson to play second base in the minors, always grieved that Roy Campanella was disabled and Jim Gilliam died young. Both would have managed the Dodgers, Al said.)
The Boston sports sections, so deliciously local and vital in their passion and memory, have been heralding this reunion of two friends who embraced in 2017 when Cora was a coach with the champion Houston Astros.
Both Dave Roberts and Alex Cora are lifers in the major leagues – useful players who had their moments. In 2004, Roberts made one of the great plays in Boston Red Sox history – stealing second base in the ninth inning of the fourth game of the league series. The Red Sox had lost the first three and were behind in the fourth, against one of the great batteries, ever – Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada.
Having learned from the great Maury Wills, Roberts was safe. The Red Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1918.
Now Roberts will be in the dugout for the Dodgers and Cora will be in the dugout for the Red Sox – a franchise still remembered for giving a bogus “tryout” to Jackie Robinson in 1945.
Baseball wrings its hands at the drop in African-American players in the last generation, but baseball has players of Asian and Latino ancestry – and so does the World Series. I salute the contribution Jackie Robinson made to this week’s milestone.
10/22/2018 11:16:07 am
What might Jackie say about Manny's style of play, George? And, do tell, what's your color in this classic, blue or red?
10/22/2018 02:13:54 pm
Good question. I wouldn't want to think for that great man but I suspect he would feel it is over the top -- particularly kicking Aguilar at 1B. In 1947, Dodger fans might have called that "pulling an Enos Slaughter."
10/22/2018 02:17:54 pm
Ooops, part two. I got past the O'Malley hatred when I saw Dodger Stadium on a beautiful spring night in 1964. I was close to the Dodgers in early 80s, what with Bob Welch and Campanis....I knew trainers, clubhouse people, etc. Like it was still Brooklyn. But I don't like Machado or Turner. I never root for the Sox -- but I love Boston and I love Fenway. So I think I'm leaning, not predicting or anything. I really loved the Astros last year and this. GV
10/24/2018 08:30:34 pm
Love you Stan the Man bio!
10/22/2018 12:23:12 pm
10/24/2018 08:32:05 pm
Love all your sports writing over the years..Baseball above all.
10/25/2018 07:54:00 am
To James B and Jim Turner: New names on this site? Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your noticing my Musial bio. Jackie Robinson and that era are part of the Musial book,I'm sure because of my own leanings. Musial did the right thing as a kid in Donora....but was hardly an activist with the Cardinals, although Joe Black and Ruben Amaro Sr. and others had good things to say about him in my book.
10/22/2018 02:21:23 pm
I can understand Mrs, Murphy's feelings. I feel sad every time I get near Ebbets Field -- once took Gene Palumbo and wife for a drive around where the ball park was. When I'm at the art museum or Botanical Garden, my head swivels like the needle on a compass. There are ghosts in Flatbush. But without them there would have been no Casey Comeback, or 1969, or 1986, etc. Don't tell that to Mrs. Murphy. GV
10/22/2018 02:46:33 pm
There are ghosts all over Brooklyn. I was chatting the other night with your friend Lee Lowenfish about the wall that remains on 3rd Avenue between 1st and 3rd streets from the old Washington Park that predated Ebbets and which bears an architectural resemblance to Comisky and Wrigley.
10/26/2018 02:00:55 pm
Thank you George Vecsey.I love the way your Musial bio began-i have not finished it-but it pulled me in.And i love the restorative justice of establishing Musial's Bona Fides as one of the 25 all-time greats.The forties and fifties seem to have been a period of apathy among people generally where it concerned Civil Rights.But as you say a lot was going on. People coming around-especially after WW2.So fun to have your reply etc.
10/22/2018 03:02:15 pm
Saying hello and sending you best wishes. It has been a long time and remembering the nice times we spent together
10/22/2018 07:46:21 pm
Hi, Allan, it's great to see your name. You were around at an interesting time -- and made a contribution. We're still in the same place, pretty much blessed. I write this little therapy web site. Hope all is well with you. George
10/22/2018 05:22:16 pm
10/22/2018 07:50:29 pm
Bruce, thanks, don't try to take a Paris baguette home with you. When I was much younger, I put one -- tres crustillant -- in my garment bag. It was soggy by the time we landed at JFK. Rookie mistake.
10/23/2018 06:32:01 pm
10/22/2018 07:06:55 pm
10/22/2018 07:53:28 pm
Dear Altenir: well, that is true about USA giving opportunity, but the mood here now is vicious, with a large chunk of the country (if not a majority) feeling aggrieved because of "them." Trump can kidnap children and stick them in camps in the desert, and his base does not care. On it goes. GV
10/23/2018 07:28:35 am
10/23/2018 07:57:51 am
10/25/2018 07:50:14 am
Nice to hear from both of you. Altenir, your comments are spot-on. Randolph -- who I believe is in my age range -- and I both grew up with the Brooklyn Dodgers as a symbol of "do the right thing." (Brooklynite Spike Lee movie.) The Dodgers are still the team of Jackie Robinson, personified by Don Newcombe, the great pitcher of that team, still doing "community work" for them, in his 90s. A great human being. Many white Americans saw life through a different prism as people like Reese, Stanky, Bragan and Walker, southerners all, made pragmatic, if not idealistic, decisions that Robinson (a) could play and (b) was a man of dignity. Did the Brooklyn Dodgers made people like young Randolph more aware in places like Appalachian towns and elsewhere? I have heard former Sen. Harry Reid talk about seeing Brooklyn on Game of the Week on TV as a kid in rural Nevada.....that mattered.
10/25/2018 05:34:56 pm
hi george.some frank robinson memories.running after him as the mets beat thereds.i was 15 and he gave us the evil eye as we waited to see the duke come out of the clubhouse in his long underwear. thinking of the frazier play and the mookie betts play.frank r.jumped into the stands at yankee stadium and the umps called it a catch.turns ouy he took the ball from a fan .all the best
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.