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Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary Commemorative: Breaking

A look at how the racial barrier was erected, then eventually torn down, in professional baseball:

March 31, 1997

--Washington Senator owner Clark Griffith, 1938



Griffith is correct, and baseball is not be ready to change for almost a decade. Still, there is a grudging acknowledgment among some whites that if excluding blacks is not wrong, it is at least keeping some of the best players out of the game. In 1940, Chicago Cub Manager Gabby Hartnett says: "If managers were given permission, there would be a mad rush to sign up Negroes."


The Philadelphia Phillies are put up for sale in 1943 and get an offer from Bill Veeck. Veeck informs baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis that he will fill his roster with players from the Negro leagues. Two days later, the National League seizes control of the Phillies, and National League President Ford Frick sells the team to William Cox for less than half of Veeck's offering price.

In 1945, Frick and a group of owners present a report on integration that, in part, reads: "However well intentioned, the use of Negro players would hazard all the physical properties of baseball."


The next year, 1946, Jackie Robinson becomes the first black to play modern organized baseball, with the Dodgers' minor league affiliate, the Montreal Royals. The next season becomes the one that will change baseball forever, when Robinson breaks in with the Dodgers. Reaction is often vitriolic, from his own teammates as well as opponents and fans.

Of his struggle against ignorance, Robinson would write in his autobiography, "I Never Had It Made": "I had to fight hard against loneliness, abuse and the knowledge that any mistake I made would be magnified because I was the only black man out there. Many people resented my impatience and honesty, but I never cared about acceptance as much as I cared about respect."


"Stealing Home: How Jackie Robinson Changed America" is a multimedia exhibition at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles that will run from April 7 through June 30. The exhibition, to honor Robinson's breaking of the color barrier, includes spectacular video highlights of Robinson's career, vintage gear from Robinson's 10 years with the Dodgers, photo displays and graphic presentations. Details: (310) 553-9036.

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