I remember being at school and having to write an essay on the American civil rights movement and wrote my essay on Jackie Robinson instead of Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. I got a very poor mark, like a D I think. The teacher said he was not that important a figure in the civil rights movement. I think in his nerdiness he was too far removed from the importance athletics has on a nation. In Malcolm X's book he states that the thing that got him through his prison time was calculating Jackie's batting average on the walls of his cell each day. I don't know why I find this whole situation of Jackie Robinson and baseball's color barrier to be fascinating beyond belief but the fact that the people of my home city have a role to play in this story makes it even more interesting still.
On Malcolm X's stone wall in his jail cell he'd chalk up the stats...one day Jackie may have went 1 for 4, and he chalked up .250, the next game Jackie may have gone 2 for 5 and X scrawled it out and changed the running tally to .333, and so on as the days and games progressed. Why was it so important what Jackie Robinson's batting average was?
Let's put this into the context of the era, in this time pseudo-scientific notions of eugenics (google it) plagued the minds of all nations of the globe. Eugenics made race into a backward science and made an arbitrary hierarchy of who was better than who by what they looked like. For example German eugenics purported that Jews were inferior and exterminated them. American eugenics held that people of darker skin tones were not as intelligent, physically capable, and advanced as those with light skin tones. Sadly, most people thought this way in that time. The U.S. Government set up laws (called Jim Crow laws) outlawing people with darker skin tones from advancing in society, and even weirder crazier things like not using the same fountain as light skinned people. This mental narrow mindedness was even in the heads of the law makers of the country. Obviously this is a problem to say the least, having heads of state who govern in this fashion is unspeakably dangerous.
Luckily science is dogged at all times by a great little thing called proof. Science is also dogged by a great little thing called mathematics. What if on a mass scale with everyone watching, eugenics was put to the test? That is exactly what happened in 1947. America's past time is baseball and the invention of radio and television meant everyone in the nation could listen or watch the test in progress. Jackie was given the chance to display his abilities by Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers and he could single handedly destroy a backward mindset of entire nation if he succeeded.
Let's say Jackie hit .197 and made 10 errors in his first 20 games and was sent down to the minors and never came back. This was a totally possible thing that could have happened in the test. Sadly, this result would have set the civil rights movement back a few decades. The millions of Americans watching this would have had used this data to further convince themselves that eugenics was correct.
Fortunately this was not the case. Jackie Robinson hit .297, with 125 runs scored and lead the leauge in stolen bases in his rookie season of 1947. Two seasons later in 1949 he led the league with a .342 batting average and was awarded the MVP that season. He was the most valuable player to his team and everyone knew it...there was no denying that Jackie was the most valuable human in baseball in 1949, and that is a huge blow to American eugenics and probably convinced millions of narrow minded fellows and ladies that the way they thought was wrong. Jackie through a series of events was given the burden of disproving American eugenics and despite all the death threats, hardships, violence from opposing players...despite everything being stacked against him he managed to gloriously succeed.
I think everyone knows that Jackie was a Montreal Royal (Brooklyn IL league farm club) in 1946 prior to his tenure with the Dodgers. Jackie hit .349 that season and won us the championship. The Montreal fans embraced him and loved him and that makes me proud to tell people that I was born here. When baseball universally retired his number 24 on all teams I went to Olympic Stadium the night Rachel Robinson was there on behalf of her deceased husband and she thanked Montreal on behalf of her husband and it really made me feel connected personally to one of the most significant events in the history of North America and the world.
Written by Deric Brazill