Every time baseball season starts up and April rolls around my thoughts turn back to a long time ago. That past is as real in many ways as the present.
My fascination with Jackie Robinson and by extension Branch Rickey began many, many years ago.
When school was out in Brooklyn in the summer, I sometimes went driving with my father in his taxi cab. One morning we were driving in East Flatbush in Brooklyn down Snyder Avenue. My father pointed to a dark red brick house with a high porch.
“I think Jackie Robinson lives there,” my father said. He parked across the street. We got out of the cab, stood on the sidewalk and looked at the house. Suddenly, the front door opened. A black man in a short-sleeved shirt stepped out. I didn’t believe it. Here we were on a quiet street on a summer morning with no one else around.
The man was not wearing the baggy, ice-cream-white-uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers that accentuated his blackness. He was dressed in regular clothes, coming out of a regular house in a regular Brooklyn neighborhood, a guy like anyone else going out for a bottle of milk and a newspaper.
Then, incredibly, he crossed the street and came right toward me. Seeing that unmistakable pigeon-toed walk, the rock of the shoulders and hips that I had seen so many times before on the baseball field, I had no doubt who it was.
“Hi Jackie, I’m one of your biggest fans,” I said self-consciously. “Do you think the Dodgers are going to win the pennant this year?”
“His handsome face looked sternly down at me. “We’ll try our best,” he said.
“Good luck,” I said.”
“Thanks,” he replied.”
He put his big hand out, and I took it. We shook hands and I felt the strength and firmness of his grip. I was a nervy kid, but I didn’t ask for an autograph or try to prolong the conversation. I just he walked away down the street.
That memory stayed with me for a very long time. And as I entered my sports book writing career I always thought of doing a book about Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. That book Rickey and Robinson: the Men Who Broke Baseball’s Color Line was first published in 1982.
For me, researching for and interviewing for and writing this book was one of my most gratifying publishing experiences. So many of those who were responsible for and witness to the breaking of the color line in baseball were still around.
So on these pages you will hear Mack Robinson, Jackie’s brother, who was so untrusting of a white author that he recorded me recording him, Rachel Robinson, who was eloquent and gracious. The wonderful Monte Irvin, who later wrote the foreword for another edition of this book, was simply sublime, re-telling honestly what those times were like. He said he could have never taken the abuse Jackie Robinson had to take. “I would’ve not been able to be the first. I would have smashed those bigots with my bat, my fist.”
Irving Rudd, a little man with big character and an even bigger heart, was giving of his time and emotions and memories and played back his role as public relations director of the old Brooklyn Dodgers when Jackie Robinson was making history.
What is so wonderful about this time capsule of a book is that I was able to reach out to those who lived “the breaking of the color line.”
Their oral history makes each page relevant and significant. They are all listed on the acknowledgments page.
Other books and films have come along since the first edition of this book. However, most of them do not contain the primary research and interviews I was able to secure in the early 1980s. That and the special stories about a special time, I believe, make Rickey and Robinson a special book, one of the favorites of all I have written.
His The Ultimate Yankee Book will be published fall 2017. Pre-order from Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Yankee-Book-Beginning-Today-Essential/dp/1624144330
“As a lifelong Yankees fan, I was devouring every last delicious new detail about my beloved Bronx Bombers in this fabulous new book.” —Ed Henry, author of 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story
Article is Copyright © 2017 by Harvey Frommer. All rights reserved worldwide.
Frommer’s work His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men’s Heath, The Sporting News, Bleacher Report and more