On May 13, 1947, I was the sole white face in the upper tier (the "colored" section) of the Cincinnati Reds' Crosley Field when Jackie Robinson came to the plate for his second at-bat. Although 60 years have passed I will never forget the power of the reaction of those people of color.
Every seat was taken. As was the custom in those days many (fans) were dressed in their finest. When Jackie left the dugout, every person stood and with arms held high as if at worship; they applauded wildly and repeatedly screamed the mantra: "Jackie, oh Jackie; Jackie, oh Jackie!"
Although at that time too young to understand, I now realize that the very presence of a black face on that major-league ball field represented the hope of liberation. Even after 60 years, I can still in my mind's eye relive the sights and sounds. Not yet "free at last" but simply "Jackie, oh Jackie."
R. Lamar Kilgore
Regarding Claire Smith's "Tribute a Necessary Occasion" column, the Robinson story is indeed worth remembering . . . each year, each month, each day.
It is impossible for me to fully comprehend the courage necessary to do what he did. His was a heroic story. One of accomplishment. Uplifting and good.
Why then do most journalists detail the ugliness Jackie encountered, and vomit a plethora of bigots to illustrate man's inhumanity? (Smith) looked for the bright lights. The positive. The good.
I'm a 58-year-old lifelong Phillies fan and never knew of Bill Veeck's 1942 intentions ("Tribute a Necessary Occasion"). Phillies management during our youth was one of the more racist in the league. When the great Dick "Don't Call Me Richie" Allen won rookie of the year in 1964, he was one of two black players on the team. And I always believed racism more than any other factor caused his departure. It was so bad in Philly that Curt Flood refused to report.
Had Bill Veeck tried his great idea a decade later and pulled it off, my team would have added many more happier seasons to my childhood and, most likely, a few pennants! How would Josh Gibson look in red pinstripes? Dick Allen is still my favorite Phillie. I missed his 1966 season. Baseball news was slow to reach the Gulf of Tonkin, but his 1972 season validated my vision of his greatness. To this day, I stand by the fact that no one could hit them farther than No. 15. The parking lot attendant outside old Connie Mack Stadium had a collection of Allen's home run balls that landed in his lot.
Joe Morgan mentioned that today's players aren't familiar with the old Jim Crow laws of the South. I'm not certain he's accurate. Certainly our Ryan Howard knows. I'd like to believe we've progressed as far as Joe intimated but have my doubts.
The excitement this season promised has been replaced by the usual Phillies collapse. I pray they can turn it around.
Certainly Jackie Robinson deserves tremendous credit and accolades for his courage and on-going strength to deal with, what I can imagine, seemed like hell on many days. As Claire Smith pointed out, all people are not bigoted and racist, even in 1947, and it was very good to read some of the examples of those who led with their goodness.
David J. Fahey
I am too young to remember Jackie Robinson breaking into baseball but old enough to remember him at the tail end of his career. My dad, a lifelong Giants fan, only grudgingly accepted any Dodgers, but the trade of Jackie to the Giants was a different story. This was more than just any Dodger. This was a "man's man," the highest praise we gave in our house in the '50s. Fortunately, we have broadened our respect to include accomplished women since then as well.
The story of Jackie and Branch Rickey is sometimes all you hear about the breaking of the color barrier, and I was pleased to see you include others that were positive players in the battle. Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Joe Gordon and Pee Wee Reese showed greatness in ways not displayed in illustrious statistics but in character - a trait that I am sure they were proud to share with Jackie and Larry Doby.
It surely would have been ironic if Bill Veeck had been successful in his bid to integrate baseball by buying the Phillies, considering their slowness to finally sign a black player, John Kennedy. Happily we can celebrate in 2007 the presence of Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard as leaders and players of unquestioned star quality.
It is refreshing to read a column that speaks so positively of athletes, even though you had to go back a few decades to find them. Perhaps Jackie Robinson brought out the best in them.
When I read the first page of Claire Smith's "Tribute a Necessary Occasion," I decided to write to you if you didn't mention Larry Doby.
By the time I finished the inside page, it was clear I had to write to you to thank you for the best presentation I have read in a sports section regarding Mr. Doby's presence in the American League in 1947.
Until the last couple of days, I had also not realized the clear position taken by Ted Williams during those important days.
I was a 6-year-old Cleveland fan in 1948 when the Indians won the World Series with Larry Doby and Satchel Paige. That must have had a positive impact on my generation, especially those of us from northern Ohio.
Thanks so much for the very interesting article.