Robinson attacked racism and pitchers with equal determination
JIM Becker, the old Star-Bulletin columnist, says Jackie Robinson had a great sense of humor. On his way out the door to break the color barrier as the first black player in the major leagues (Jackie took the subway to the park), Robinson told his wife: "If you have a hard time picking me out out there on the field, I'll be the one wearing No. 42."
Which brings to mind another story. There were death threats, that year. Once, the Dodgers got word that someone had threatened to shoot No. 42. Which prompted the dumbest guy on the team to say, "Hey, let's all wear 42, then the guy won't know which one of us to shoot at!"
Which brings us to Sunday, the celebration of Robinson's 60th anniversary. All of the Dodgers wearing 42.
Turned out that guy was onto something, all those years ago. Turned out, he was the smartest on the team after all.
WE TURN TO Becker again, to tell this story, as he was there, that day. He's been telling it for 60 years.
"I've told this story of Jackie Robinson's first game a good deal in the last few days," Becker said. "But it bears repeating and repeating and repeating."
It does. "A very black man in a gleaming white uniform," Becker said. "Walking out of the dugout and onto the grass, alone." Who was he?
"He hated to lose at checkers," Becker said.
Becker said, "He played a slashing sort of game. He attacked the ball. Clemente attacked the ball. Greenberg attacked the ball. They say that Lou Gehrig attacked the ball. Rather than that smooth, effortless power swing of, say, Bonds." No, Jackie Robinson attacked.
When the day finally came that Robinson had established himself, when he'd broken the color line for good, when he could be just another player out there, "He had a list in his head," Becker said.
"Robinson would say to the pitchers -- and I will leave out all of the bleeps -- 'You bleep, bleep, bleepity bleep bleep! I want you to feel this bunt that I'm going to lay down the first-base line.' "
He'd put down the bunt, and the pitcher would just watch it roll. "Robinson would have taken him right into right field," Becker said.
JACKIE ROBINSON had arrived. Baseball would never be the same. The world would never be the same.
On Sunday, as his unknowingly enlightened teammate had envisioned all those years ago, all of the Dodgers wore 42.
"Jackie Robinson won," Jim Becker said. "Jackie Robinson's victory was Jackie Robinson's victory alone. But Jackie Robinson's defeat would have been our defeat. Your defeat. My defeat. The defeat of people who weren't born when Jackie Robinson walked out on that field. But Jackie Robinson didn't lose.
Becker said, "Jackie Robinson didn't know how to lose."