Following on from part one, Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play Major League Baseball beginning in the 1940s. Yet his success didn’t come easily.
At 26, Jackie Robinson stepped into the whites-only elevator of the Brooklyn Dodgers headquarters to meet with an executive for the team on an unknown matter. Once Robinson had entered the office of Branch Rickey, the two clicked and began discussions on the future of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Major League Baseball. In an interview with Jackie’s wife, Rachel, she mentions that both Robinson and Rickey bonded over common passions such as commitment to family, religion, values and baseball in general.
Rickey had brought Robinson to his office because he took notice of his skill as a baseball player and sought to make him the first coloured man on the team. But there was another goal on Rickey’s mind. It was evident that he was great at baseball, but was he the man for the job?
Branch Rickey was looking for a great baseball player, but more than that, an honourable man. Rickey began throwing scenarios at Robinson, “what would you do if…” and “How would you react when…”
Robinson interrupted with “Mr Rickey, do you want a man who is afraid to fight back?” To which Rickey replied, “I’m looking for a ball player with guts enough not to fight back.”
Do you have the guts?
Branch Rickey believed strongly that Jackie Robinson had a place in Major League Baseball and that those who followed would benefit from it, though he understood that his vision had the potential of being corrupted if Robinson so much as looked at a white person wrong.
With a history of being quick to anger and having a smart mouth, Robinson didn’t look like the right candidate for the job, and this added pressure would more than get to him over time. In the book Seven Men, Eric Metaxas wrote that Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey both agreed that in the hands of man this was impossible but with God, it was entirely possible.
After Jackie and Rachel were married, their honeymoon was cut short by Jackie’s obligation to begin spring training. As the couple prepared to board their flight, they were removed and told to wait for the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that… before finally deciding to take a sixteen hour bus ride, on which they were moved to the seats at the back.
The first test of many stretched Robinson’s capacity for self-control, reminding me that the day to day irritants of life are almost completely insignificant in comparison. If Jackie Robinson could have a low tolerance for abuse and disrespect yet still have the self-control of a better man, surely I could stretch myself too.
The bigger picture
For Jackie to have the ‘guts’ to not fight back, he had to have a greater focus for his mission than the present moment. This unknowingly pivotal opportunity for Jackie, let alone all those that followed him, was at stake, and Jackie wasn’t about to make headlines for doing the wrong thing no matter how justified it may be.
“I had no right to lose my temper and jeopardise the chances of all the blacks who would follow me if I could help break down the barriers.” It’s interesting that although Jackie was the victim at present, he was more concerned that racism could make coloured people the victims of tomorrow also.
Robinson wrote: “I had a bad few seconds, deciding whether I could continue to endure this humiliation.”
When Jackie played his first game as an official Major League Baseball player, he was confronted by plenty of verbal and physical abuse. Death threats to him and his family, service denied at restaurants and hotels, and beatings by other players began to shine a light on the ugly nature of many people as Jackie kept his cool on his way to becoming one of the top players in the MLB.
The result of his resilience and faith, was the joy of witnessing the racial barriers of sport and culture break down while people honoured the forgiving, Jesus-like nature of Jackie Robinson.
Jesse Moore draws from the Bible and classical literature for insight into life’s tough questions. He is currently studying at university to become a film-maker.
To view part one, Jesse Moore’s previous articles can be viewed at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jesse-moore.html