Jackie Robinson In Quotes: The Remarkable Life of Baseball’s Most Significant Player
By Danny Peary
Page Street Publishing, $19.99
Veteran baseball author and historian Danny Peary wrote an engrossing book about Jackie Robinson to commemorate the 70th anniversary of when he made his debut with the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ International League team.
Jackie Robinson In Quotes is written differently than most books, as the story of his life is told in quotes from Robinson and others. The quotes also illuminate fun facts, like that Duke Snider debuted the same as Robinson, so read carefully.
“I played hard, and always to win,” which Robinson said in Baseball Has Done It in 1964, is just one of his many quotes.
The book starts with his formative years, then his time in college as a mutli-sport athlete, his experiences in World War II, joining the Dodgers and what he faced, and his years as a social activist.
Perry says of Robinson’s activism, “Jackie Robinson was telling people, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ more than half a century ago. There has never been a book like this honoring one of America’s most historic icons. Everyone has opinions about him; Robinson was a revered and sometimes polarizing figure who had an unparalleled impact on America’s social history before, during, and after his baseball playing career.
“As his own quotes make clear, Robinson never stopped speaking, never stopped agitating, never stopped striving for equality and social justice for all Americans. As a result, no player since World War II was more discussed, praised, and attacked both verbally and in print,” said Peary.
There are illuminating quotes from Jackie’s wife Rachel Robinson and the rest of his family, Hank Aaron, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali, Yogi Berra, Ralph Branca, Roy Campanella, Carl Erskine, Bob Gibson, Hank Greenberg, Derek Jeter, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Don Newcombe, Walter O’Malley, Pee Wee Reese, Branch Rickey, Paul Robeson, Vin Scully, Duke Snider, Ted Williams, Don Zimmer.
One of the most notable quotes comes from MLB Commissioner Bud Selig during the ceremony retiring Robinson’s uniform number 42 at Shea Stadium on April 15, 1997. “No single person is bigger than the game. No single person other than Jackie Robinson. Number 42 belongs to Jackie Robinson for the ages.”
Roy Campanella II, son of the three-time National League MVP Roy Campanella, says of the book, “As someone who knew Jackie and practically grew up in the Dodgers’ clubhouse at Ebbets Field, I’m genuinely impressed with the masterful way Danny Peary has selected and assembled thousands of quotes by and about him. The book captures both the fascinating historical landscape of a baseball pioneer and the emotional depth of his journey toward social justice.”
Peary believes that Robinson was extremely influential during the 15 years after his retirement from baseball in 1956. While he was supported by Democrats and, controversially, Republicans in mainstream politics, Robinson had relationships with Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, and other prominent political figures who challenged the status quo, and was consistently a strong voice for racial equality during the Civil Rights Movement.
“He continued to speak and write about all the changes he felt were necessary in a divided America. Many correctly believe Robinson’s death at age 53 was due, in part, to the stress he endured as the man who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier. It becomes clear in the pages of the book, that perhaps what wore him down the most was what he willingly went through as a political activist in the years after his playing career. He refused the be relegated to the sidelines, and in his quest to end discrimination wherever it existed, he never let up as long as he felt it could make a difference. And he did make a big difference,” said Peary.”
Here is a selection of what was said about Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers in April 1947:
“Thanks, I’ll need it.” – Robinson to his Montreal teammates who wished him good luck, April 10, 1947.
“Jackie Robinson, 28-year old infielder, yesterday became the first Negro to achieve major-league baseball status in modern times. His contract was purchased from the Montreal Royals of the International League by the Dodgers and he will be in a Brooklyn uniform at Ebbets Field today, when the Brooks oppose the Yankees in the first of three exhibition games over the weekend.” – Louis Effrat, New York Times, April 11, 1947.
“I believed that the single most important aspect of Jack’s presence was that it enabled white baseball fans to root for a black man, thus encouraging more whites to realize that all our destinies were inextricably linked.” – Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait, 1996
“I felt I needed to be there to witness and share in what was happening to Jack. As we traveled back to MacDonough Street from the ballpark, we discussed the day’s events. We vented our anger and frustration and shared the joy and excitement of winning a game or a new supporter. By the time we got home, Jack could enter in relative peace.” – Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait, 1996
“She’s been the most important and helpful and encouraging person I’ve ever known in my life.” – J.R. (as Jackie Robinson is referred in his quotes), about Rachel Robinson, quoted by Jack Sher, Sport Magazine, 1948
“You’re on this ball club and as far as I’m concerned that makes you one of twenty-five players on my team….I want you to know I don’t like it. I want you to know I don’t like you.” – Eddie Stanky, Dodgers second baseman, to Jackie Robinson, who thanked him for being upfront, April 1947.
“When it was announced the Dodgers had purchased Robinson’s contract just prior to the 1947 season, I…wasn’t sure Robinson would turn out to be a good major league player…and even if he did, I couldn’t picture a parade of other Negro leaguers marching into the majors on its heels. It’s a ticklish point, but the general view of white players….was that African-American players weren’t as good as they turned out to be….I think most of us didn’t believe they were equal to us as players…or…nearly as competitive as we were. That was really a mistaken impression. I can’t fathom why I didn’t equate talent with being competitive.” – Ralph Kiner, Pirates outfielder and Hall of Famer, Baseball Forever, 2004.
“April 15 was a perfect day for baseball, with blue skies, a soft breeze, and just enough chill in the air to remind fans that a long season of baseball lay ahead. Soon the fans would arrive in Flatbush, catching their first glimpse of Ebbets Field, a bird’s nest of brick and steel tucked inside one square city block. All of Brooklyn’s ethnic groups converged….By one estimate, nearly three-fifths of the fans were black….but the most stunning thing was that only [26,623] fans came through the gates – 2,000 fewer than on Opening Day in 1946, and 5,000 fewer than the ballpark’s capacity….Many fans were concerned that Robinson’s presence would set off more than the usual number of skirmishes.” – Jonathan Eig, Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season, 2007
“Robinson posed for pictures on the dugout steps with the rest of the Dodger infield, John ‘Spider’ Jorgensen [who borrowed Robinson’s fielder’s glove to play third], Pee Wee Reese, and Eddie Stanky….Then the men went about…loosening their arms and fielding some ground balls.” – Jonathan Eig, Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season, 2007
“I became the first pitcher to face Jackie Robinson. We knew he was going to play although they hadn’t announced it, which may be why there were 6,000 empty seats at Ebbets Field….There were no incidents of mischief during the game, which is why nobody remembers who pitched to Robinson. he played first base and batted second. In his first at-bat in the first inning, I threw him a low curveball.” – Johnny Sain, Boston Braves pitcher, to Danny Peary, We Played the Game, 1984.
“[Robinson’s] arrival in Brooklyn was a turning point in the history and character of the game; it may not be stretching things to say it was a turning point in the history of this country. I think I failed to understand, to appreciate really, the burden Robinson was carrying on his shoulders.” – Red Smith, New York Times, 1956
“He was history’s man. Nothing less. Though he came to the nation disguised as a a mere baseball player, he was, arguably, the single most important American of that first post-war decade….What made him so important was the particular moment when he arrived and the fact that he stood in the exact intersection of two powerful and completely contradictory impulses, one the impulse of darkness and prejudice, the other the impulse of idealism and optimism, the belief in the possibility of true advancement for all Americans in this democratic and meritocratic society.” – David Halberstam, author and historian, excerpt from original essay “History’s Man,” Jackie Robinson Between the Baselines, edited by Gleen Stout and Dick Johnson, 1997
“My thoughts are on Jackie Robinson today, my birthday. I was born in Harlem the day after Jackie’s first major league game across the river in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field….I have always considered it a gift that I slipped into the world just at that moment.” – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, basketball Hall of Famer and author, April 16, 1989