Great Americans on Stamps

Remembering Jackie Robinson

I grew up in Brooklyn. In those days, everyone I knew who grew up in Brooklyn was a Brooklyn Dodger fan. We were serious fans. Every Friday in school at our all-school assembly we sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." When we reached the point in the song that went "...root, root, root for the Home Team" we replaced home team with Dodgers, which every kid in the school yelled as loudly as possible. Let me tell you - 550 kids all yelling Dodgers at the top of their lungs made a huge sound.

Living in Brooklyn was only part of the reason we were fans. The other part, the bigger part, was that the Brooklyn Dodgers were such an exciting team. And one of the reasons they were so exciting was they had Jackie Robinson.

He could hit - in his 10 seasons he had 1,518 hits, 137 home runs and a batting average of .311 ( batting average 1949 =.342. )

He could field. He was a terrific second baseman - and first baseman - and third baseman.

And he could run -- fast. Wow! Was he ever fast. One of the things he used that speed for was stealing bases.

Stealing bases was the thing that made him the most exciting player on the Brooklyn Dodgers. He thrilled the fans and drove the opposition pitchers crazy. There he'd be on second base. We'd watch, breathless as he inched off in the direction of third. The pitcher, sensing his move would pivot and throw. But Jackie was faster than the ball. He'd be back on second before the ball arrived, ready to try again.

He'd keep teasing the pitcher; the tension in the crowd would build. One can only imagine how nervous he made the pitcher. And then suddenly he'd break for it. The fans in Ebbets Field would be on their feet, waving their arms, cheering him on. And he'd make it. And sometimes, if one of the basemen fumbled the ball, he'd go on and steal home too. Once he stole second, third, and home in the same inning. (April 23, 1954) In the ten seasons he played he stole 197 bases.

As a kid, when I watched Jackie Robinson play, all I saw was a great player. I was too young to realize what a hero he was, what courage it took to be the first African American player in the major leagues. By the time I was old enough to be a fan, the Brooklyn Dodgers had other African American players. Campy, Roy Campanella, was catcher. Don Newcombe was a pitcher. So was Joe Black. Sandy Amoros played left field. Junior (Jim) Gilliam covered second. So a racially mixed team seemed very natural to me.

But when Jackie Robinson first walked on the field in a Dodger uniform in 1947, he integrated major league baseball. This was a time in America when schools were segregated, when there were hotels that said "White's only," when people with dark skin had to ride in the back of the bus. Many bigoted people resented seeing Jackie play on what had been a white team. They yelled nasty words from the stands. They sent death threats. Some pitchers from other teams tried to hit him with pitched balls; runners tried to dig their spikes into his legs.

Through it all, Jackie Robinson stayed cool. It wasn't easy but he did it. When Branch Rickey, the vice president of the Brooklyn Dodgers hired him, part of the deal was that Jackie would not fight back when people attacked. Any angry response of Jackie's could give his enemies an excuse to get him fired. So he swallowed his anger. He just played incredibly fabulous baseball.

He played in 151 games, scored 125 runs, stole 29 bases and had a .297 batting average. It earned him the first-ever Rookie of the Year Award.

Two years later, the year he had 122 runs, 203 hits, and 37 stolen bases, he won the National League MVP award.

In 1962 he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the first African American to achieve that honor.

On April 15, 1997, the 50 year anniversary of his first Dodger game, the number Robinson wore, the number 42, was forever retired from Major League baseball.

On Aug. 2, 1982, the U.S. Postal Service released a 20-cent stamp commemorating baseball great Jackie Robinson. He was the first baseball player, Black or White, to be honored with a stamp.

In 2005, 32 years after his death, Jackie Robinson was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for a lifetime spent opposing race discrimination. He did not believe in sitting back and just enjoying the celebrity and opportunities his success in baseball opened for him.

"Life is not a spectator sport" he said..."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."

Clearly his was a full and meaningful life, and all of us owe him a great deal.

So, this Brooklyn girl says, "Thank you Jackie Robinson, for all you did and all you were."