Monday, April 16, 2007
42 was a 4
There was plenty of media coverage about yesterday's festivities at Dodger Stadium in honor of Jackie Robinson (on the 60th anniversary of his major league debut, back in Brooklyn), so I won't recap the whole thing. Having attended the game, I offer the following observation:
At no point did they show any highlights of him making a defensive play. There was the ubiquitous black & white footage of him stealing home plate (although even about that I'm not entirely sure how the umpire, positioned behind the catcher, could see whether Jackie's foot really touched the plate before the catcher tagged him; I'm not saying he wasn't safe, just wondering how the umpire had any angle to see one way or the other). There were scenes of him hitting home runs and tipping his cap as he rounded third, but not a single shot of him making a play as a second baseman. Surely over the course of his ten years in the majors he must have made a diving stop of a line drive or turned a double play (if they made double plays back then). Was he nothing more than a good hitter with speed who was nothing more than a passable player in the field? He won rookie of the year, and later MVP, so I suppose I figured he must have been at least okay with the glove.
(Of course, being a well-rounded player is not all that important when it comes to who garners votes for awards.)
To be clear: I'm not suggesting Jackie wasn't a well-rounded player; I'm suggesting the way he is portrayed historically leaves out certain aspects of the game.
It is true that Jackie was ultimately lauded for his ability to put up with the racist crap he had to endure; that he had skill with the bat or on the basepath, while worthy of winning awards for the season, would not get his number retired for every single team in the leagues (posthumously). Whether he ever fielded a routine ground ball is inconsequential when it comes down to why we remember him; it was not for what he could do that others could do, but for what he did that no one before him did: take the prejudice directed toward an entire race on his shoulders, becoming a lightning rod for ignorant hatred, and never lash back in anger, always turning the other cheek.
I'm certain I would not have been that strong, had I been in such a horrible position.
Still, despite knowing the various details of the important role he played in what would become the civil rights movement, during yesterday's festivities at the stadium I found myself thinking, Oh yeah, he played second base. His position in American society had overwhelmed (in my conscious mind) his position in the field.
If only some of the footage that gets shown when discussing him had shown him with a glove on standing on the appropriate side of the infield—I'm sure there must be some film somewhere in an archive at least—then I'm sure I would not have been so taken aback by being reminded of what would otherwise be an insignificant fact: that he was the Dodgers' second baseman*.
It's not the flashy stuff, I concede, but it seems like at some point over the past 40 years someone would have put something involving him wearing a glove. Maybe in a montage or something.
I'm just saying.
* Yes, I know (now, after more research) that he started at first base. And that he played shortstop in the Negro Leagues.