Tag Archives: Brooklyn Dodgers

Jackie Robinson: My First Symbol of Racial Pride in Sports

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The inclement weather ten days ago on Sunday, April 15, tried to put a damper on Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day celebrations.  All Major League players wore number “42”, Jackie’s number, on their uniforms during games that day and other activities were also held at Major League ballparks to honor him.  This year marked the 71st anniversary of April 15, 1947, the day Jackie Robinson became the first African-American in the 20th Century to play Major League baseball.  The weather this spring forgot it is supposed to be the beginning of baseball season.  Six of the scheduled sixteen games on April 15 were cancelled due to cold, wet weather, even snow.  In addition, four of the games played were in weather conditions more conducive for football.  But recognition of Jackie Robinson’s place in baseball history cannot be damped by bad weather.

Why did I delay my Jackie Robinson Day blog post this year?  My past April 15th blog posts on Robinson focused on recapping the game he played in a Brooklyn Dodger uniform on that April 15 at Ebbets Field against the Boston Braves, and highlighting the statistical success of his ten-year Hall of Fame Major League career.  However, this year instead of rushing to just write anything about Robinson to put on the blog April 15th, I did more reflecting and have made a more personal post.

I missed Jackie Robinson’s time in baseball.  My love for the sport began at the end of his career.  He made history on that April 15 day four years before I opened my eyes for the first time.  I know my father and older brothers watched Robinson in action on our family’s first television, a black and white Philco, but I cannot recall as a toddler or   small child seeing him on the screen.  My first TV World Series recollection is Henry Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves’ defeat of the New York Yankees in 1957.  Robinson had retired after the end of the 1956 season.  But from what the adults in my family said about him, I had my first lesson of racial pride in regards to sports.  At six years old I knew of Jackie Robinson as the first “Negro” to play in the Major Leagues.

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I know historically that is not true. William Edward White (pictured below left), a former slave, played first base one game for the Providence Grays in 1879.  The Grays at that time were in the National League.  White has the distinction of being the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues.  In addition Moses Fleetwood Walker (pictured below right) in 1884 played with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association, considered a Major League at that time.  However, by 1890 the color line barring African-Americans and dark-skinned Hispanics from professional baseball in America became solid until 1947 when Robinson erased it.  To the adults in my family, the first Negro they saw in their lifetime play in the Major Leagues; Jackie Robinson.  White and Walker were long before their time.

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As “baby boomers”, my friends and I idolized players such as Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Orlando Cepeda and others whose careers began in the late 1950s.   And in the early 1960s, Billy Williams, Willie Stargell, other African-American, and dark-skinned Hispanic players came on the scene.  We collected their baseball cards, knew all of their statistics, and had our favorite players.  As much as I admired those other ball players, however; I held Jackie Robinson in a higher esteem.

By the time I reached high school in the mid to late 1960s, some of Robinson’s political actions and opinions were contrary to that of many African Americans.  He came under stern criticism from my generation at that time.  Even though the raised fist and shouts of “black power” drowned out Robinson’s more practical approach to racial relations, I did not lose respect for him.  I still saw Jackie Robinson as that first symbol of racial pride in sports I learned as a child.

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I love seeing the black and white films showing Robinson in action like in the documentary shown this past March on PBS; “Jackie Robinson” by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon.  The daring way he ran the bases, especially stealing home, is still exciting to me today.

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Baseball And Civil Rights 1956: Part 2

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Curt Roberts 1956 Pittsburgh Pirates

This is the second part of my previous blog post on the process of racially integrating professional baseball coinciding with the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s.  They were both a part of the massive seismic shift in racial relations occurring after World War II that would forever change the nation.  An example of how they coincided is shown in the story of the scheduled exhibition games in the spring of 1956 between the Kansas City A’s and the Pittsburgh Pirates to be played in Birmingham, Alabama.  As mentioned in Part 1, they were cancelled on February 16, 1956.

With the toxic racial climate that existed in the city during the 1950s, it puzzled me how and why the games were even scheduled.  There had to be information to add clarity to what happened. I would like to thank Jim Baggett of the Birmingham Public Library for providing that additional information to solve the puzzle.

First a short recap.  As part of the “Jim Crow” laws racially segregating the city, Birmingham’s City Commissioners banned interracial athletic competition.   However, the ban clashed with Major League baseball becoming racially integrated in the 1950s.  It had been a tradition for Major League teams at the close of spring training to play exhibition games as they traveled north to begin the season.  The spring “barnstorming circuit” mostly consisted of cities in the southern United States.  As more Major League teams became integrated, the fewer opportunities existed for Birmingham to receive the economic benefits of being on the circuit.   The City Commissioners lifted the ban on January 26, 1954 and that spring the Brooklyn Dodgers played two exhibition games in Birmingham against the Milwaukee Braves.

According to information from the Birmingham News in 1954 sent me by Mr. Baggett, the second game drew 10,474 fans; the largest crowd to see a spring exhibition game in the city since 1947 and the third largest ever.  There were no reports of racial violence or unrest during the games.  Afterwards, since Major League baseball exhibition games evidently were normally handled on a two-year ahead basis, five games for Birmingham were scheduled for 1956; the Braves vs the Dodgers on April 6, the Pittsburgh Pirates vs the Kansas City A’s on March 31 and April 1, and the Boston Red Sox vs Birmingham’s Southern League Double A minor league team (the Barons) on April 7 & 8.

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Johnny Logan, Henry Aaron, Ed Mathews 1956 Milwaukee Braves

However, the racial harmony on the ball field displayed during the games between the 1954 Dodgers and Braves games disturbed the racial hardliners in Birmingham’s city government.  It went against what they called, “the South’s way of life”, and their belief that athletic competition between blacks and whites could not be done peacefully.  They orchestrated a campaign of fear saying the desegregation of sports would lead to desegregation in other aspects of life in Birmingham (schools, department stores, public accommodations, etc.) and forced a voter referendum to reestablish the racial athletic competition ban.  On June 1 the referendum passed City Ordinance 597, called “the checker ordinance”, and the ban again went into place.

As the spring of 1956 approached, the general managers of the Major League teams scheduled to play exhibition games in Birmingham received a copy of the ordinance:

“It shall be unlawful for a negro or white person to play together or in company with each other   any game of cards, dice, dominoes, checkers, baseball, football, softball, basketball, or similar games”. City Ordinance 597

The maximum penalty for violation:  $100 fine and/or 180 days in jail.

By 1956, the racial integration of Major League baseball remained slow, but steady.  It had passed the “experiment” label some had put on it. Seven of the eight National League teams and six of the eight teams in the American League had become racially integrated.  Since 1947, former Negro League players had been named National League Rookie of the Year six times.  Three of them, Jackie Robinson (1947), Don Newcombe (1949), and Junior Gilliam (1953) played for the Dodgers who were scheduled in one of the games that spring.  Although African-American and dark-skinned Hispanic players in the Major Leagues still encountered racial discrimination in 1956, their teams were beginning to be less willing to subject them to municipal segregation laws such as in Birmingham.

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Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers

The Birmingham Barons were the sponsor of the games that spring.  On February 14, 1956; Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Buzzie Bavasi and Milwaukee Braves General Manager John Quinn issued the following joint statement to the Barons’ general manager:  “Due to the current conditions in the Birmingham area, all parties concerned have agreed to cancel the game in Birmingham between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Milwaukee Braves”.  Two days later, February 16, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City A’s cancelled their two games scheduled to be played in Birmingham that spring.

The Boston Red Sox games against Birmingham Barons were played as scheduled.  The last Major League team to integrate, the Red Sox would not have its first African-American player until 1959.

Information for this blog was provided by Jim Baggett of the Birmingham Public Library

 

Remembering Jackie Robinson

Despite the current lukewarm attitude about baseball of African-Americans, April 15 is still an important date in not only baseball history, but also African-American history.

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American since before the turn of the century to play Major League baseball. Wearing Number 42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson played first base and batted second in the team’s home opener at Ebbet’s Field against the Boston Braves. In three at bats, he reached base on an error and scored a run in the Dodgers’ 5 – 3 win.

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To celebrate the day of Robinson’s debut, April 15 is designated by Major League Baseball; “Jackie Robinson Day”. All Major League players will wear number “42”, Jackie’s number, on their uniforms during games today and other activities will also be held at Major League ballparks to honor him.

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Growing up in a home where my father and two older brothers were baseball fans, I was made aware at an early age of Jackie Robinson. However; his mark in history, both African-American and Twentieth Century American, continues to grow in significance sixty-nine years after that Brooklyn spring day in 1947.  A mark that he made through his excellence on the baseball diamond whose impact goes well beyond the sport itself.

Robinson hit .297 in 1947 and led the National League in stolen bases. Although many sportswriters doubted he would be successful, the National Sportswriters Association named him 1947 National League Rookie of the Year.  In 1949, he led the National League in hitting (.342), stolen bases, and drove in 124 runs.  For his efforts Robinson won the National League Most Valuable Player Award.  He hit over .300 six in his 10 Major League seasons, and over .290 two others.  A six-time National League All-Star, Robinson helped the Dodgers win six National League pennants (finishing second four times) and one World Series championship (1955).

But I missed his playing career!   When I made my entrance into the world in August 1951, Robinson and the Dodgers were in the process of blowing a 14 1/2 lead against the second place New York Giants to lose the National League pennant.  There was no ESPN, CNN Sports, Fox Sports Net, or MLB Network in the 1950s.  I am sure Jackie would have made the ESPN Top Ten Plays of the Day highlights numerous times.  He retired after the 1956 season as I was in the kindergarten class of Miss Williams at Kealing Elementary.  That is why I love seeing the black and white films showing him in action like in the documentary showed last week on PBS; “Jackie Robinson:  A Film by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMaHon”.  The daring way he ran the bases, especially stealing home, is still exciting today.

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Truthfully Jackie Robinson was not the best player in Negro League baseball when Dodger Vice-President and General Manager Branch Rickey signed him in 1945. But he was named the 1946 International League’s Most Valuable Player while with the Dodgers top minor league team in Montreal.   Bob Feller, the star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians said Robinson would never be good enough as a hitter to make it in the Major Leagues.  How ironic was it that they were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame together in 1962.  Jackie Robinson accepted the hopes and expectations for success of his race as he faced the expectations and predictions of his failure from those opposed to him.  Despite this pressure from all sides, he proved his skeptics wrong and opened the door for other African-American and dark-skinned Latino ball players to play Major League baseball.  Jackie Robinson was an extra-ordinary man God equipped for a super extra-ordinary task!

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To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown

The Negro League Baseball Fact For Today – Joe Black

Born on February 8, 1924 in Plainfield, New Jersey; right-handed pitcher Joe Black possessed a power fastball and natural slider. Black pitched with the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro National League (1943 -1950) while finishing college (Morgan State) and then was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers.

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As a 26 years old Major League rookie, Black pitched in relief for Dodgers in 1952. His former Elite Giant teammate Roy Campanella was the Dodgers’ catcher.  Black won 15 games; he also saved 15 and received the 1952 National League Rookie of the Year award.

To Black’s surprise, Dodgers’ manager Chuck Dressen chose him to be the starting pitcher against the New York Yankees in Game One of the World Series. Black had only started two games during the regular season.  He responded by becoming the first African-American pitcher to win a World Series game beating the Yankees 4 – 2.  However, Black lost Game Four 2 – 0 and Game Seven 4 – 2.  He finished the Series with a 2.15 ERA, lowest of all Dodger starting pitchers.

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After a six-year Major League career (1952 – 1957) in which he was 30 – 12, Black worked in business becoming a vice president at the Greyhound Corporation.

Learn more about the Negro League Baseball Era Last Train To Cooperstown

Amoros & Neal: Stars in Dodgers’ World Series History

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Today is for long time Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodger baseball fans, like James O’Berry in Houston, to celebrate the birthday of two players who were on a World Series Champion Dodger team; Sandy Amoros (left) in 1955 and Charlie Neal (right) in 1959. Neither of them received formal “hero status” in their team’s triumph.  But Dodger fans know how important each of them were those years; the two World Series Championships for the franchise in the 1950s.

After five previous World Series losses against the New York Yankees; 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953, the Brooklyn Dodgers defeated them in 1955.  Johnny Podres claimed the moniker of “Series hero” for the Dodgers by pitching a 2-0 shutout in Game Seven, his second complete game win in the Series.  It is in that important Game Seven when Sandy Amoros makes his contribution to the Dodgers’ victory.

Born January 30, 1930 in Matanzas, Cuba, Edmunido “Sandy” Amoros could hit a baseball with surprising power for his 5’7 ½”, 170 pounds physical stature. He played Negro League baseball in 1950 with the New York Cubans.  The team went out of business after the season and Amoros played in Caribbean baseball leagues until signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952.  The left-handed outfielder hit over .300 and showed power in his batting stroke while in the team’s minor league system.  However, after integration Major League teams had a “quota” on the number of African-Americans to have on their rosters.  With Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Joe Black, and Jim Gilliam already wearing Dodger blue, the team kept Amoros in the minor leagues.

It is Amoros’ defense, however, that engraved him a place in Dodger history.  In the deciding Game Seven of the 1955 World Series, the Dodgers were leading 2 – 0 in the bottom of the sixth inning; but the Yankees had the tying runs on base with no outs.  Yankees’ catcher Yogi Berra hit a line drive headed towards the Yankee Stadium left field corner that appeared it to be a game tying double.  However Amoros; who had been put in the game for defensive purposes when the inning started, ran as fast as he could and caught it.  He quickly threw it back to the infield and completed a double play.  Amoros’ play killed the Yankees’ scoring threat and the Dodgers held on to win the game and be 1955 World Series Champions.

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Amoros’ 1955 World Series Catch

In 1959, the second season after moving to Los Angeles, the Dodgers defeated the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. Dodger relief pitcher Larry Sherry played a role in all four of the teams’s victories and got the nod as Series “Most Valuable Player”.  He pitched 12.2 innings with an Earned Run Average (ERA) of 0.71.  Entering the contests as a relief pitcher, Sherry got the save in World Series Games Two and Three, and was the winning pitcher in Games Four and Six.  Whereas Sherry was the pitching star for the Dodgers in the Series, Charlie Neal led the team in hitting.

Born January 30, 1931 in Longview, Texas; Charles Lenard Neal signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950. A promising prospect, the 5’10’, 165 lb. infielder first languished in the minor leagues as the Dodgers had team captain Pee Wee Reese at shortstop, All Star Jackie Robinson playing second base, and 1953 National League Rookie of the Year Jim Gilliam also playing on the infield.  In addition as Sandy Amoros discovered, the Dodgers were reluctant to have “too many” African-American and dark-skinned Latinos on the Major League roster.

Neal made his Major League debut April 15, 1956; playing in 62 games his rookie season and hitting .287. The starting second baseman in Game Three of the 1956 World Series, Neal went hitless against the Yankees’ Whitey Ford in the Dodgers’ 5 -3 lost.  When Jackie Robinson retired in 1957, Reese moved over to play third base and Neal became the Dodger’s starting shortstop.  In 1958, the Dodgers first season in Los Angeles, Neal hit 22 home runs and drove in 65 runs.

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Charlie had the best year of his career in 1959, hitting .287 with 19 home runs, 83 RBIs (2nd on the team), and a team leading 177 hits.  The All-Star second baseman also received his only Gold Glove Award.   After the White Sox won Game One of the 1959 World Series 16 – 0, the Dodgers trailed 2 – 0 in the top of the fifth in Game Two.  Neal broke the team’s streak of 13 scoreless innings with a solo home run.  He then hit a 2-run homer in the seventh to give the Dodgers a lead that Sherry kept in their 4 – 3 win.  While a crowd of 92,394 looked on at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Game Three, Neal went 2 for 4.  With the score 0 – 0, he singled to start a Dodger rally in the bottom of the seventh and scored the first run in the team’s 3 – 1 victory.  In the Series clinching Sixth Game, he got three hits.  His double drove in two of the Dodgers’ six runs in the top of the fourth on their way to winning the game 9 – 3 and the World Series Championship (four games to two).  For the Series, Neal hit .370 with two home runs, six RBIs and had the most hits; 10.

 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Baseball, and Jackie Robinson

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Today is the national celebration for the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., what would have been his 88th.  Much will be written giving tributes to his life and the impact his legacy continues to have not only on this country, but also the world.  However, I want to mention what appears to have been Dr. King’s favorite sport, baseball.

When Jackie Robinson crossed the “invisible color line” in 1947 to be the first African-American to play Major League baseball in the 20th Century, he became the idol of an 18-year-old teenager in Atlanta, Georgia; Martin King Jr.  Like many other African-Americans at that time, whether baseball fans or not, the Brooklyn Dodgers were the young King’s favorite baseball team because of Jackie Robinson.  Many of those African-American Dodger fans, including King, remained loyal to the team after Robinson retired and it relocated to Los Angeles in 1958.  In addressing the 1966 Milwaukee Braves’ move to his hometown of Atlanta, Dr. King indicated it would complicate his personal allegiance that had existed since 1947.  “And so I have been a Dodger fan”, he said, “but I’m gonna get with the Braves now”.*

But Dr. King had been more than a fan of the Dodgers; he understood the significance for African-Americans of what Jackie Robinson had done in 1947. After becoming a leader in the Civil Rights movement, Dr. King knew where his idol as a teenager’s accomplishments fit overall in reference to that movement.

When Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on that Montgomery, Alabama city bus in December of 1955 triggering the Civil Rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s, Jackie Robinson was nearing the end of his baseball career. He announced his retirement on January 5, 1957; fifteen days after the successful end of the Montgomery bus boycott led by the 26-year-old pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the 1960s, Robinson became actively involved in the Civil Rights movement with Dr. King. He spoke at Civil Rights rallies in the South for Dr. King, marched in demonstrations with him, and held fund-raisers for Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  Dr. King and Robinson became co-laborers in the African-American struggle for equality.  He considered Jackie Robinson a friend.

At a testimonial dinner for Jackie Robinson on July 20, 1962 celebrating the former Dodger’s upcoming National Baseball Hall of Fame induction in three days, Dr. King paid tribute to him. He defended Robinson’s right to speak out about segregation and civil rights.  “He has the right”, King insisted stoutly,  “because back in the days when integration was not fashionable, he underwent the trauma and the humiliation and the loneliness which comes from being a pilgrim walking the lonesome byways towards the high road of Freedom.  He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.  And that is why we honor him tonight.”**

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may have liked other sports. However; because of Jackie Robinson, baseball appeared to be his favorite.  Since idolizing Robinson while being a teenager in 1947, Dr. King never forgot the significance of the baseball player’s accomplishments in the struggle of African-Americans for equality.

*”At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965 – 1968”, Taylor Branch, p.394

**”Jackie Robinson: A Biography”, Arnold Rampersad, p.7

 

 

Honoring Jackie Robinson, #42

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Please excuse the tardiness of this blog post.  In my effort to assemble a team to play in the Satchel Paige Division (age 11 – 12) of the RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inter-City) program run by the Kansas City Boys and Girls Club, I allowed April 15th to slip by me.  But that is still not a good excuse, considering how important that day is not just in Major League baseball but because of its significance in both African American and 20th Century American history.

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American since before the turn of the century to play Major League baseball. Wearing Number 42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson played first base and batted second in the team’s home opener at Ebbet’s Field against the Boston Braves. In three at bats, he reached base on an error and scored a run in the Dodgers’ 5 – 3 win.

To celebrate the day of Robinson’s debut, last Friday was designated by Major League Baseball; “Jackie Robinson Day”. All Major League players wore number “42”, Jackie’s number, on their uniforms during games that day and other activities were also held at Major League ballparks to honor Robinson.

Growing up in a home where my father and two older brothers were baseball fans, I was made aware at an early age of Jackie Robinson. However; his mark in history, both African American and Twentieth Century American, continues to grow in significance sixty-nine years after that Brooklyn spring day in 1947.  A mark that he made through his excellence on the baseball diamond whose impact goes well beyond the sport itself.

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Robinson hit .297 in 1947 and led the National League in stolen bases. Although many sportswriters doubted he would be successful, the National Sportswriters Association named him 1947 National League Rookie of the Year.  In 1949, he led the National League in hitting (.342), stolen bases, and drove in 124 runs.  For his efforts Robinson won the National League Most Valuable Player Award.  He hit over .300 six in his 10 Major League seasons, and over .290 two others.  A six-time National League All-Star, Robinson helped the Dodgers win six National League pennants (finishing second four times) and one World Series championship (1955).

But I missed his playing career!   When I made my entrance into the world in August 1951, Robinson and the Dodgers were in the process of blowing a 14 1/2 lead against the second place New York Giants to lose the National League pennant.  There was no ESPN, CNN Sports, Fox Sports Net, or MLB Network in the 1950s.  I am sure Jackie would have made the ESPN Top Ten Plays of the Day highlights numerous times.  He retired after the 1956 season as I was in the kindergarten class of Miss Williams at Kealing Elementary.  That is why I love seeing the black and white films showing him in action like in the documentary showed last week on PBS; “Jackie Robinson:  A Film by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMaHon”.  The daring way he ran the bases, especially stealing home, is still exciting today.

robinson running

Truthfully Jackie Robinson was not the best player in Negro League baseball when Dodger Vice-President and General Manager Branch Rickey signed him in 1945. But he was named the 1946 International League’s Most Valuable Player while with the Dodgers top minor league team in Montreal.   Bob Feller, the star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians said Robinson would never be good enough as a hitter to make it in the Major Leagues.  How ironic was it that they were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame together in 1962.  Jackie Robinson accepted the hopes and expectations for success of his race as he faced the expectations and predictions of his failure from those opposed to him.  Despite this pressure from all sides, he proved his skeptics wrong and opened the door for other African American and dark-skinned Latino ball players.  Jackie Robinson was an extra-ordinary man God equipped for a super extra-ordinary task!

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