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Number of Pages: 176
Publication Date: 2002
|Dimensions: 8.1 X 5.58 X 0.69 (inches)|
Series: Turning Points
"Perhaps no one has ever told the tale [of Robinson's arrival in the major leagues] so well as [Simon] does in this extended essay."
--The Washington Post Book World
"Scott Simon tells a compelling story of risk and sacrifice, profound ugliness and profound grace, defiance and almost unimaginable courage. This is a meticulously researched, insightful, beautifully written book, one that should be read, reread, and remembered."
--Laura Hillenbrand, author of the New York Times bestseller Seabiscuit
The integration of baseball in 1947 had undeniable significance for the civil rights movement and American history. Thanks to Jackie Robinson, a barrier that had once been believed to be permanent was shattered--paving the way for scores of African Americans who wanted nothing more than to be granted the same rights as any other human being.
In this book, renowned broadcaster Scott Simon reveals how Robinson's heroism brought the country face-to-face with the question of racial equality. From his days in the army to his ascent to the major leagues, Robinson battled bigotry at every turn. Simon deftly traces the journey of the rookie who became Rookie of the Year, recalling the taunts and threats, the stolen bases and the slides to home plate, the trials and triumphs. Robinson's number, 42, has been retired by every club in major league baseball--in homage to the man who had to hang his first Brooklyn Dodgers uniform on a hook rather than in a locker.
As the cliche goes, if Jackie Robinson hadn't existed, someone would have had to invent him. In fact, much of this min-bio by National Public Radio's Simon serves to dismiss the oft-spoken argument that much of Robinson's legend (and that of his patron, the Brooklyn Dodgers' general manager Branch Rickey) can be attributed to the mythmakers who have made a career for themselves deifying the man who integrated baseball's National League in 1947. Simon revises the revisionists not by analyzing the rose-tinted image many have painted of Robinson and Rickey, but rather by allowing each man to be human and decidedly flawed. Not allowing his shortcomings (a brash temper, a noted rebelliousness and a not insignificant amount of baseball snobbery) to define his performance as a player was Robinson's greatest success, and Simon (Home and Away) illustrates that point ably. He doesn't tell readers anything they don't know about Robinson, Rickey, the Dodgers, Brooklyn and the state of race relations in the 1940s, but he does a slightly more thorough job than most of illuminating Jackie's one and only year playing for Brooklyn's farm club in Montreal, the place where Rickey's "noble experiment" actually began. This episode is often overlooked by everyone except Montrealers, who take no small amount of pride in their role as pioneers. (Simon notes that Robinson's earlier tryout with the Boston Red Sox was for naught, quite possibly because that team's farm team played in conservative segregated Kentucky rather than liberal, cosmopolitan Montreal.) While no new ground is covered, Simon's account of Robinson, Rickey and the integration of baseball is as thorough and accessible, as the reader is likely to find. (Sept.) (Publishers Weekly, June 24, 2000)
What does Simon, host of National Public Radio's Weekend Edition, bring to the Robinson legacy? The Standard was set by Jules Tygiel's 1997 update of h is great 1983 book, Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy. For the casual reader who may not wish to slog through Tygiel's 432 pages of history and sociology, Simon's 176 pages may be just the ticket. This more modest book-part of Wiley's new "Turning Points' series focusing on "defining" historical events-deals primarily with Robinson's life, from his service in the army during World War II through his first couple of season with Brooklyn Dodgers. In writing about Robinson, Simon also tells the story of segregated America. To a younger generation not familiar with Jim Crow society, the world rendered so vividly through Simon's writing will seem like another planet. The reader has to be reminded that this iniquitous period of American history was not all that long ago. Simon's book does not reveal anything new about Robinson, but for those not completely familiar with his story, this is an excellent place to start. Readers familiar with the story can still enjoy a wordsmith's craft. It is much the same quality as his work on National Public Radio. Enthusiastically recommended. (Library Journal, September 15, 2002)
"an extraordinary little book in an extraordinary new series intended to capture extraordinary moments in history." (Chicago Tribune, September 29, 2002)
JACKIE ROBINSON and, his new bride, Rachel, were flying cross-country in early 1946 to spring training in Florida when, having been bumped for dubious reasons from their New Orleans-to-Pensacola connection, they went to the airport coffee shop for a sandwich. They were turned away. "Whites Only" signs sneered at them from atop restroom doors and drinking fountains, And when a flight finally opened for the Robinsons - after a night in one of the few wretched hotels that deigned to have them - they were told to relinquish their seats again, watching helplessly as a white couple strode onto the plane. They wound up riding a bus for 32 hours - in the rear, naturally. The malevolence, Robinson soon encountered on the baseball field - bean balls, the taunts of "nigger boy" from opponents - has become a legend that has been passed from one generation to the next. The background behind Robinson's triumphs - racism not just in baseball but in the national culture - has been obscured. The irony of Robinson's story is that it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that the country he helped to change ever existed.
Scott Simon's "Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball" tells the more familiar tale; Jules Tygiel's "Extra Bases: Reflections on Jackie Robinson, Race, and Baseball History" fills out and occasionally challenges the Robinson legend. Both authors View Robinson not as a black dot against a white background but as a white dot of valor and conscience against a black chapter in American history.
Though Robinson grew up in Southern California, baseball's was by no means the first overt racism he battled, He was barred from his Army post's baseball team, told instead to play for the black team - which didn't exist. He was Court-martialed, though acquitted, after protesting a reprimand for sitting on a military bus next to a woman mistakenly thought to be white. He played in the Negro leagues for one season before being handpicked by the Brooklyn Dodger boss, Branch Rickey, to integrate the major leagues.
Simon, the host of "Weekend Edition Saturday" on National P1iblic Radio, is at his best when giving the reader the texture of Robinson's story before he set foot on Ebbets Field. Political pressures in Boston led the Red Sox to give Robinson and two other players a sham tryout that typified baseball's recalcitrance. Outlasting headhunting fastballs, flesh-slicing spikes, hateful epithets and players in the Philadelphia Phillies' dugout pointing their bats at him like rifles, Robinson faced the danger Virtually alone. "It is tempting today," Simon writes, "to suppose those threats were empty. But in the late 1940's, beatings. bombings, lynchings and shootings scarred the landscape of the United States. They could be just as public as - well, as baseball games." Unfortunately, Simon too often lapses into familiar honorifics for Robinson, including "knight," "hero" and "lightning rod." Then again, one reader's banality can be another's signpost.
Alan Schwarz is the senior writer of Baseball American magazine. (New York Times Book Review, October 13, 2002)
"An extraordinary book in an extraordinary new series intended to capture extraordinary moments in history... invitingly written and brisk." (The Chicago Tribune)
"Simon... is at his best when giving the reader the texture of Robinson's story..." (The New York Times Book Review)
"delights audiences with his wit, inquisitiveness and humanity..." (SKY, October 2002)
"In JACKIE ROBINSON AND THE INTEGRATION OF BASEBALL, Simon carefully dissects Robinson's first season in the majors, his relationship with Pee Wee Reese, and what it all means to America in 2002." (Publishers Weekly, October 7, 2002)
Koufax's rookie year was the season when Jackie Robinson's Dodgers finally won the World Series. In a new book, Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball (Wiley, $22.95), National Public Radio host Scott Simon re-examines the Robinson story. There is no need for a new chronicle of Robinson's arrival in major league baseball, Simon acknowledges near the end of this slim volume. Yes, but perhaps no one has ever told the tale so well as he does in this extended essay. With an ear for the incisive phrase, Simon recaptures the drama of Brooklyn Dodger general manager Branch Rickey searching for the right African-American ballplayer to break the color line. In his first meeting with Robinson, Rickey thundered at the former four-sport star at UCLA, telling him what kind of man he wanted for the task: "I'm looking for a ballplayer with the guts not to fight back." "I have another cheek," Robinson assured Rickey, and the deal was set.
Two years later, in 1947, Robinson first appeared in the big leagues. He endured the taunts, catcalls, beanballs, brushback pitches, high spikes and low blows and, finally, the burden of trying to play ball while worrying that history could turn - or be turned back - by whether he could hit a curve. Robinson proved he could hit a curve and anything else a pitcher could throw at him, helping the Dodgers to the pennant in his rookie year, winning the Most Valuable Player award in 1949 and, most important, opening the door to thousands of other African-American major leaguers. (The Washington Post Book World, Sunday, October 13, 2002)
You wouldn't expect a lot of subtlety in a book about the men who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier, particularly the man who faced death threats and the vicious name-calling of fans and fellow players. Heroic sagas come down to us in broad, bold, unequivocal strokes, and we might not look for more from a nearly pamphlet-sized 168-page book on Jackie Robinson's breaking into the bigs.
But Scott Simon has rendered a wonderful and nuanced portrait of Robinson and his quest, writing with both the warmth and candor that makes him a refreshing, worldly host of NPR's "Weekend Edition." He makes it clear he is writing about a true hero, even in the time when the word hero has been tempered by the sacrifices of those lost to 9/11. But he also shows the multiple forces aiding Robinson's difficult ascent. Perhaps the biggest force was World War II, which had blacks dying as well as whites in a fight against tyranny and oppression and the Nazi ideal of racial purity. It seemed only fair in a growing number of American minds, including that of Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey, that all Americans could expect liberty and justice at home.
More parochial forces were also at work, too. After the Harlem riots of 1943, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia established a commission on discrimination and urged the city's stores, factories and labor unions to open up to black workers. He also threatened to make the city's three baseball teams integrate.
Brooklyn itself was a potentially hospitable place for that to happen. Simon's more schmaltzy moments come in describing the borough, but he does point out that its diversity and liberalism made it perhaps the best testing ground for Rickey's social experiment.
Yet another force pushing to get black ballplayers in the majors was the fact that they were so good. Rickey wanted badly to beat the Yankees, and the man who invented the modern farm system knew the Negro Leagues were the last great pool of untapped talent for the majors to exploit.
"I want to win the pennant, Jackie," he said in his first meeting with Robinson in 1945, "and we need ballplayers to do it. Do you think you can do it?"
Robinson stared down his critics and otherwise suffered them with a burning stoicism that ran counter to a fighting spirit so strong he once fought to keep a seat on a Texas bus in 1944, more than a decade before Rosa Parks made her stand in Montgomery, Ala. But Robinson's forbearance would have been for naught if he were not supremely talented. He was a four-letter athlete at UCLA. He won a Ping-Pong championship. And once in the majors, he earned the Rookie of the Year Award, now called the Jackie Robinson Award, in 1947, and later led the Dodgers to the pennant.
That ability trumped all to the point where Simon makes a convincing case for calling Robinson the athlete of the last century, with a wider range of skills and a greater grace under pressure than Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan, the usual candidates.
Simon shows us that athleticism, as well as Robinson's petulance, prickliness and Republicanism. It makes for a well-rounded portrait, a complete picture, which leaves you with a sense that you really know all that it took to bring about one of the most important feats of both sport and mankind. (The Seattle Times, October 13, 2002)
Columnist George Will said he believes Jackie Robinson, the man who integrated Major League Baseball in 1947, is the second most important black American in this nation's history, with Martin Luther King being the first. Even though they are ideological opposites, the host of National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon" agrees with Will. When World War II ended, no nation was freer or stronger than the United States and yet few major nations so openly subjugated so many of their own citizens. Thus there was a lot of liberal optimism at the time, and Robinson personified it. He proved that the removal of barriers would allow blacks to show their talents. Before King, he was the man who best represented to the nation the hope of the future, and his breaking of baseball's color barrier had a far-reaching impact on more than just sports. His desegregation of baseball was followed by the desegregation of the U.S. armed forces in 1948. Also in 1948, the Democratic National Convention split over the issue of civil rights. "Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball" deftly captures the drama of Robinson's first year in baseball, tracing his journey from rookie to Rookie of the Year, the award that now bears his name. The enormous strain of vicious attacks, taunts, racial slurs and death threats may have led to Robinson's life ending far too soon, but he gave his life for something great, as all heroes do. (Tampa Tribune, October 20, 2002)
"THERE'S NO need for a new chronicle about Jackie Robinson's arrival in major league baseball," Simon opines toward the end of this volume. So why write one? According to Simon, Sept. 11 forced Americans to reassess what a hero is, and the author wants readers to know Robinson deserves that honorific because he "gave his life for something great"-America's promise of equality. Did a black player taking the field in 1947 face the danger a firefighter encounters when entering a burning tower? Simon doesn't make that case, but he traces Robinson's bravery while excelling and lighting a path to social justice. Simon sometimes uses a sanctimonious tone and injects glib comic relief, oddities that clash with the significance of Robinson's feat. (Sports Illustrated, October 28, 2002)