APRIL 15th, Much More Tahn Tax Day

As you know, April 15th is Tax Day. It is also very significant for another reason. On April 15th, 1947, Jackie Robinson put on a Brooklyn Dodger uniform and ran out of the dugout at Ebbets Field. Jackie Robinson was the first “Negro” to play in any professional U.S. sport. Up until this point no Black, Hispanic or any non-white athlete could not play professional major league sports. Wonder what professional Basketball was in those days.

I was born in Brooklyn two days before Jackie Robinson put on that uniform. After I got out of the cotton diapers, my Dad took me frequently visiting Ebbets Field. Dad always tried to get seats along the first base line so we could see Jackie close-up. Jackie Robinson is one of my heroes. Dad was a former labor leader who always carried a gun. By this time, he was a professor. If you looked up Liberal in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of my Dad. In my den on the wall hangs a poster size photo of Jackie stealing home against the Yankees in one of the many World Series matches between the two. I also have framed Jackie’s letter to Major League Baseball that he will be retiring.

So why is this athlete so important to me and more importantly to the United States of America? Before Ms. Parks, Dr. King, and lunch counters, there was a white guy, Rickey, clearing the field for Jackie to integrate professional sports. Sadly, a few years ago, I asked a few Black kids if they knew who Jackie Robinson was; none knew.

Jackie was no slouch. He graduated UCLA, has letters in four sports, and was a Lieutenant in the Army during WW II. Even back then, Jackie refused to sit in the back of the bus on a military bus.

This breakthrough could not have happened anywhere but Brooklyn.

Brooklyn back then was a unique place; it was the real unsegregated spot on the world map. In that era, every WWII movie had a G.I. from Brooklyn. The actor’s roles usually came from a variety of places but always one guy from Brooklyn. And from Brooklyn, he could have any ethnicity, except Black (Blacks in movies a no no and in real life WWII Negroes were segregated in the Army). In musicals, Frank Sinatra and others “came” from Brooklyn. Anytime someone mentioned on live TV, a roar happened. Every American, and I guess those many around the world knew Brooklyn and what it stand for; that accent was more popular than a Texas drawl.

I am a member of the New York Friar’s Club and it seems most members when relaxed have a Brooklyn accent.

Everyone from Brooklyn, no matter their religion or ethnic root spoke some Yiddish and Italian; even the Chinese waiters in Chinese restaurants spoke some Yiddish, Italian, Russian, and Spanish. People from Ireland spoke English and as Jimmy Cagney said in his bio that gave them a head start. The Irish history back then is so American and so wonderful. Cagney spoke Yiddish fluently.  Corned Beef and Cabbage, that’s a story in itself. My Christian friends would go to Hebrew School with me and I’d go to Sunday School with them.

Brooklyn was different.
One of the ironies of the Brooklyn Dodger organization when Jackie joined the team, all broadcast announcers were southerners – Red Barber and former Tiger, Ernie Harwell. Vin Scully, who still does play-by-play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a New Jersey native, didn’t arrive until after Jackie was a Dodger for three years. The southern guys were not comfortable with Blacks on the team and pretty much said so. Ernie said he “respected” Robinson’s skills” and Red Barber was more direct and threatened to quit. All of them were out front about it.  Branch Rickey tried to have Red overcome his racism, but I think it was major league announcer job’s pay made the difference. Jackie’s performance I think also one him over. Jackie’s stats are unbelievable – Batting average of .297, Rookie of the Year in ’47 and he stole a lot of bases, including home like no one else. Barber appeared on NPR radio in the 90’s telling the truth about all about this. And, by the way, the Yankee’s announcer was Mel Allen, another southerner. I guess New York teams didn’t think New Yorkers could speak right.

 A few years ago on my WLBY program, I had as a guest Jackie’s daughter Sharon Robinson. It was wonderful to hear that people around the world are in awe of Jackie and that the Jackie Robinson Foundation receives donations from all over the globe.

Under Branch Rickey’s leadership, he continued hiring African-Americans.  He quickly signed Joe Black, Don Newcomb, Roy Campanella and others – All Hall of Famers. Other teams recognizing Black players exceptional skills started hiring also.

My point. Brooklyn made it happen. It could not have happened in Philadelphia, Boston, the Manhattan/Bronx Yankees or Chicago. It’s just a fact.

The Jackie Robinson that Branch Rickey allowed to blossom are both important people to me, not just from professional sports, but because they changed so much for so many.


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