Thank God for Jackie

The quotation below is inscribed on the statue of President Gerald Ford in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. It is a tribute from Speaker of the House, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill after the President had given a full and absolute pardon to Richard Nixon for the crimes he may or may not have committed. By putting the country’s needs first, President Ford allowed the nation to start healing after the Watergate crisis.

“God has been good to America, especially during difficult times. At the time of the Civil War, he gave us Abraham Lincoln. And at the time of Watergate, he gave us Gerald Ford – the right man at the right time who was able to put our nation back together again.”

Thank God for Jackie!

I didn’t live through the Ford administration; however, for the next generation, the legacy of Ford is hardly that of a saviour.

However, one feels about President Ford, we know that Jackie Robinson is named after a one-of-a-kind President. Jack Roosevelt Robinson, the grandson of slaves, was born on 31 January 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. Robinson’s middle name was a tribute to former President Theodore Roosevelt, who died 25 days before Robinson was born.

It is fair to say that God was good to baseball, and thus America, when the Brooklyn Dodgers scouted Jackie Robinson.

Amazingly, he was not the first famous member of his family. His brother, Mack, was the runner-up to Jesse Owens in the 200 metres at the infamous Berlin Olympic Games of 1936.

Before signing with the Dodgers, Jackie had a career in public service in the US Army. Although he never served in combat, he was stationed alongside boxing legend, Joe Louis at Fort Riley. He was honourably discharged in 1944 after being court-martialled and acquitted for refusing to move to the back of an unsegregated bus. After his service, Jackie coached army athletics before being encouraged to continue his own athletic pursuits, which dated back to his time as a four-sport athlete at UCLA. In an All-Star season in 1945, Jackie played shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League for $400 a month.

Embed from Getty Images

The story of Jackie Robinson becomes personal for me because of his first spring training in Florida in 1946. The movie 42 attempts to make sense of a confusing period of shuffling between camps for the Brooklyn Dodgers and their affiliate, the Montreal Royals. While the Dodgers were based out of Daytona Beach, they could not work out all of their players there at the same time. Therefore, Jackie, and members of the Royals, were to work out in my hometown, Sanford, Florida. The story from the perspective of the Sanford History Museum is below. Jackie’s first spring training appearance took place at the site of Sanford Historic Stadium where I played a handful of baseball games in high school and collegiate summer league.

Robinson went on to break the colour barrier when he made his Major League Baseball debut on 15 April 1947, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York, becoming the first African-American baseball player in Major League history.

Garrett Jones is a guest writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @Garrett9j


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