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Jackie Robinson: Simply a Great Athlete : Baseball: He may be best known for breaking the color line, but he is also remembered for his tremendous abilities in many sports.

February 12, 1990|DICK BALOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Afterward, Joe Bostic summed up the event by writing in the New York Amsterdam News: "The most significant sports story of the century was written into the record books today as baseball took up the cudgel for democracy and an unassuming but superlative Negro boy ascended to heights of excellence to prove the rightness of the experiment. And prove it in the only correct crucible for such an experiment--the crucible of white-hot competition."

Ironically, Al Campanis was Jackie's double-play partner at Montreal. Campanis, who three years ago was forced to resign as Dodger vice president/general manager as a result of his remarks about blacks, recalled vividly Robinson's skills.

"Jackie had great athletic aptitude," said Campanis. "I was playing shortstop, but I had experience at second base and knew the position.

"The baserunners were going for Jackie as he came across the bag on a double play. I worked with him on the rocker step. That's where you hit the bag with the left foot, step back on the right and throw to first.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday February 13, 1990 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 4 Column 4 Sports Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Jackie Robinson--Because of a typographical error, Duke Snider's lifetime batting average was incorrect in Monday's editions. Snider's lifetime average was .295.

"Jackie picked it up in a half-hour. We had another second baseman who needed weeks to learn the move.

"Robinson was a big man," Campanis continued. "He weighed 195 at Montreal and well over 200 with the Dodgers.

"But he was amazingly fast and agile. If he were caught in a rundown, the odds were in Jackie's favor to get out of it."

Robinson took an incredible amount of verbal abuse during the year with Montreal, and there was always the beanball.

"You never saw anything like it," said Dixie Howell, the catcher who was Robinson's teammate at Montreal and later in Brooklyn. "Every time he came up, he'd go down!"

The pressure mounted and Jackie was close to a nervous breakdown during the season. But as always, he sucked it up.

He went on to hit .349 and win the International League batting title and most valuable player award.

Jackie then paced Montreal to the Little World Series flag as the Royals downed Louisville, four games to two.

Courage is like love--it must have hope for nourishment-- Napoleon Bonaparte

Robinson was promoted to Brooklyn for the 1947 season. With Eddie Stanky at second base for the Dodgers, Jackie opened National League play at first.

Now he faced major league pitching as well as big league bigots.

They called him every slur in the book.

They yelled remarks about his odor. There were hyphenated expressions about his mother.

Fans threw watermelon rinds in his path. Pitchers threw at his head, knees and groin.

Baserunners came in with spikes flashing. Infielders tagged him viciously.

It was a 200,000-1 shot for a young man to make it to the major leagues and succeed. Jackie Robinson became a star with hatred ringing in his ears.

Young blacks of a later era criticized him for not fighting back. He couldn't. His hands were tied. "No fights . . . no brawls" was the agreement with Rickey.

Above all, when the pitcher flipped him, Jackie had to get up out of the dirt and face the fast ball again, always the tight fast ball.

That first year some of his Dodger teammates asked to be traded. Popular Fred (Dixie) Walker was swapped after the 1947 season.

Walker and Hal Gregg went to Pittsburgh for left-handed pitcher Preacher Roe and third baseman Billy Cox. It was a great trade for the Dodgers.

The St. Louis Cardinals threatened to strike if Robinson played. They backed down when league president Ford Frick warned he would suspend any trouble-makers.

There was a particularly ugly incident of bench-jockeying in a series with Philadelphia. Alabama-born manager Ben Chapman and his Phillies were all over Robinson.

Stanky couldn't take it and shouted at the Phillies' bench, "You're all a bunch of cowards, picking on a man who can't fight back!"

It might have been the turning point in the season as the Dodgers rallied around Robinson.

During that first year--1947--Robinson won the rookie of the year award, as the Dodgers took the National League pennant.

He batted .297 with 12 homers in 151 games. Robinson garnered his first of two stolen base titles with 29 thefts.

In 1948 Jackie replaced Stanky at second base and batted .296. Robinson's top year was 1949, when he won the National League's most valuable player award.

He batted .342 with 203 hits, 38 doubles, 12 triples, 16 homers, 124 runs batted in, and 122 runs scored.

Jackie's .342 average and 37 stolen bases were league highs.

It was the first of six straight seasons in which he batted over .300.

The Brooklyn club of the late '40s and early '50s was loaded with talent.

Catcher Roy Campanella, who possessed "bleacher power" and outstanding defensive skills, was named National League most valuable player in '51, '53 and '55.

Gil Hodges, a fine fielding first baseman, hit the long ball, particularly in Brooklyn's Ebbets Field. From 1949 to 1955 he recorded 100 or more RBIs a season and averaged more than 32 home runs a year.

Talented Junior Gilliam broke into the lineup at second base in 1953. Thereafter, Robinson split his time between third base and the outfield.

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