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Century's Greatest Sports Accomplishment - Part 1

As this tumultuous century nears its end, the proliferation of all kinds of lists and rankings of the greatest sports figures, games, and events keeps on increasing. Many of the marker times and personalities are well deserving of honor and hype.

 

But from my point of view there is no event as significant as the breaking of baseball's color Line. It changed the national pastime forever. It ushered in a whole new era in baseball and in all sports. Here is what it was like at the very start.

 

With the blue number 42 on the back of his Brooklyn Dodger home uniform, Jackie Robinson took his place at first base at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947. It was 32 years to the day since Jack Johnson had become the first black heavyweight champion of the world.

 

Many of the 26,633 at that tiny ballpark on that chilly spring day were not even baseball fans, but had come out to see "the one" who would break the sport's age-old color line. Robinson's wife, Rachel, was there along with the infant Jackie, Jr. Many in the crowd wore "I'm for Jackie" buttons and badges, and screamed each time the black pioneer came to bat or touched the ball.

 

Jackie Robinson grounded out to short his first time up. He was retired on a fly ball to left field in his second at bat. He grounded into a rally-killing double play in his final at bat of the day.

 

The Dodgers won the game, 5-3, nipping Johnny Sain and the Boston Braves. For Robinson it was a muted performance, but the first of 1,382 major league games was in the record books - and he had broken baseball's color line forever.

 

"I was nervous on my first day in my first game at Ebbets Field," Robinson told reporters 

afterward. "But nothing has bothered me since."

 

On April 18, 1947, at the Polo Grounds, in the shadow of the largest black community in the country, Jackie Robinson smashed his first major league home run as the Dodgers defeated the Giants, 10-4.

 

Writer James Baldwin had noted: "Back in the thirties and forties, Joe Louis was the only hero that we ever had. When he won a fight, everybody in Harlem was up in heaven. On that April day the large contingent of blacks in the crowd of nearly 40, 000 had another hero to be "up in heaven" about, another hero to stand beside Joe Louis."

 

Part sociological phenomenon, part entertainment spectacle, part revolution, part media event - the Jackie Robinson story played out its poignant, dramatic and historic scenes through that 1947 season.

 

Toward the end of the season, a Jackie Robinson Day was staged at Ebbets Field. Robinson was now a major drawing card rivaling Bob Feller and Ted Williams in the American League.

 

"I thank you all." Robinson said over the microphone in that high-pitched voice. He acknowledged the gifts he'd received, which included a new car, a television and radio set and an electric broiler.

 

Robinson stood next to the Jackie Robinson. 

"I am 69 years old," Bill Robinson said. "But I never thought I would live to see the day when I would stand face to face with Ty Cobb in Technicolor."

Harvey Frommer is the author of more than 30 sports books including

 

"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," and "The New York Yankee Encyclopedia." 

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
on Twitter: http://twitter.com/south2nd
on Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/edit?locale=en_US
on the Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer

Dr. Frommer is the Official Book Reviewer of Travel-Watch. 
*Autographed copies of Frommer books are available .
 

Other Frommer sports related articles can be found at:   

Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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