Jackie Robinson

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Jackie Robinson : biography

31 January 1919 – 24 October 1972

In 2011, the U.S. placed a plaque at Robinson’s Montreal home to honor the ending of segregation in baseball. The house, on 8232 avenue de Gaspe near Jarry Park, was Robinson’s residence when he played for the Montreal Royals during 1946. In a letter read during the ceremony, Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, wrote: "I remember Montreal and that house very well and have always had warm feeling for that great city. Before Jack and I moved to Montreal, we had just been through some very rough treatment in the racially biased South during spring training in Florida. In the end, Montreal was the perfect place for him to get his start. We never had a threatening or unpleasant experience there. The people were so welcoming and saw Jack as a player and as a man."

Baseball career

Negro leagues

In early 1945, while Robinson was at Sam Houston College, the Kansas City Monarchs sent him a written offer to play professional baseball in the Negro leagues.Eig, p. 17. Robinson accepted a contract for $400 ($ in dollars) per month, a boon for him at the time.Robinson, Jackie, p. 24. Although he played well for the Monarchs, Robinson was frustrated with the experience. He had grown used to a structured playing environment in college, and the Negro leagues’ disorganization and embrace of gambling interests appalled him.Tygiel, p. 63.Bryant, p. 30. The hectic travel schedule also placed a burden on his relationship with Isum, with whom he could now communicate only by letter.Robinson, Jackie, p. 25. In all, Robinson played 47 games at shortstop for the Monarchs, hitting .387 with five home runs, and registering 13 stolen bases. He also appeared in the 1945 Negro League All-Star Game, going hitless in five at-bats.

During the season, Robinson pursued potential major-league interests. The Boston Red Sox held a tryout at Fenway Park for Robinson and other black players on April 16.Bryant, p. 31. The tryout, however, was a farce chiefly designed to assuage the desegregationist sensibilities of powerful Boston City Councilman Isadore Muchnick.Simon, pp. 46–47. Even with the stands limited to management, Robinson was subjected to racial epithets. Robinson left the tryout humiliated, and more than fourteen years later, in July 1959, the Red Sox became the last major league team to integrate its roster.

Other teams, however, had more serious interest in signing a black ballplayer. In the mid-1940s, Branch Rickey, club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, began to scout the Negro leagues for a possible addition to the Dodgers’ roster. Rickey selected Robinson from a list of promising black players and interviewed him for possible assignment to Brooklyn’s International League farm club, the Montreal Royals. Rickey was especially interested in making sure his eventual signee could withstand the inevitable racial abuse that would be directed at him. In a famous three-hour exchange on August 28, 1945, Rickey asked Robinson if he could face the racial animus without taking the bait and reacting angrily—a concern given Robinson’s prior arguments with law enforcement officials at PJC and in the military. Robinson was aghast: "Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?" Rickey replied that he needed a Negro player "with guts enough not to fight back."Robinson, Jackie, p. 33. After obtaining a commitment from Robinson to "turn the other cheek" to racial antagonism, Rickey agreed to sign him to a contract for $600 a month, equal to $ today.Rampersad, p. 127.Robinson, Jackie, p. 34. Rickey did not offer compensation to the Monarchs, instead believing all Negro league players were free agents due to the contracts’ not containing a reserve clause. Among those Rickey discussed prospects with was Wendell Smith, writer for the black weekly Pittsburgh Courier, who according to Cleveland Indians owner and team president Bill Veeck "influenced Rickey to take Jack Robinson, for which he’s never completely gotten credit."

Although he required Robinson to keep the arrangement a secret for the time being, Rickey committed to formally signing Robinson before November 1, 1945.Rampersad, pp. 127–128. On October 23, it was publicly announced that Robinson would be assigned to the Royals for the 1946 season.Lamb, p. 43. On the same day, with representatives of the Royals and Dodgers present, Robinson formally signed his contract with the Royals.Rampersad, p. 129. In what was later referred to as "The Noble Experiment",Tygiel, p. 79. Robinson was the first black baseball player in the International League since the 1880s. He was not necessarily the best player in the Negro leagues, and black talents Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson were upset when Robinson was selected first. Larry Doby, who broke the color line in the American League the same year as Robinson, said, "One of the things that was disappointing and disheartening to a lot of the black players at the time was that Jack was not the best player. The best was Josh Gibson. I think that’s one of the reason why Josh died so early – he was heartbroken."