Never Had It Made: Jackie Robinson
From all the options my brain collected, I chose to read and write about Jackie Robinson, who is most famously known for being the first African American to play in major league baseball. Robinson was born in 1919 and died in 1972 of a heart attack, which is when the book I chose was published. I Never Had It Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson was written by Robinson himself along with Alfred Duckett who contributed before and after the Hall of Famer’s untimely death. Because it’s an autobiography, it helps us have a better understanding of Robinson’s life and struggle through racial discrimination even before baseball because we’re being told the story through his perspective. We readers know that was given the most accurate information because it’s being told by the actual person that the story is about. For a solid portion of the book, we are given information about Robinson’s childhood and his background regarding his race around the early 1900s. Race is one of the most obvious themes of the autobiography as we get to know how he felt growing up around a time period where African Americans were highly segregated and discriminated against. But the story also lets us know the many positive things that were present in Robinson’s life even before his fame. One thing that really gives me praise for him is that he wasn’t just the first black athlete to play baseball. He was so talented and by far the best on his team at times that he even carried them to many accomplishments including a championship in 1955. Sports and “person vs. society” are also the main themes of the story because of the great popularity of baseball at the time and the struggle Robinson faced being the first black athlete in the sport. The book consists of 22 total chapters written mostly through his words.
The story begins with Robinson describing his experience of his first day playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 in New York against the rival Yankees in game 1 of the World Series. He expressed his pride and excitement before the game but also uneasiness as he realized the impact of the game because of him. “I was proud of that and yet I was uneasy. I was proud to be in the hurricane eye of a significant breakthrough and to be used to prove that a sport can’t be called national if blacks are barred from it.” (Robinson 18) It clearly was an obstacle for him as his move to major league baseball helped redefine the color barrier and had yet so many people still have hatred towards him and African Americans. While lots of people accepted the fact that was playing despite racial prejudice, others hate loathed and issued him hate mail, along with death threats. It would go even farther than that when a bunch of people occasionally would call him names using racial slurs with the obvious n-word. As I moved along the story collecting information, I mostly thought about the positive things out of it and not the negativity that Robinson went through. It was difficult at times though as Robinson expresses hatred towards him during his childhood and most notably during his time on his Brooklyn baseball club. “It hadn’t been easy. Some of my own teammates refused to accept me because I was black. I had been forced to live with snubs and rebuffs and rejections. Within the club, Mr. Rickey had put down a rebellion by letting my teammates know that anyone who didn’t want to accept me could leave. But the problems within the Dodgers club had been minor compared to the opposition outside. It hadn’t been that easy to fight the resentment expressed by players on other teams, by the team owners, or by bigoted fans screaming “nigger.” The hate mail piled up. There were threats against me and my family and even out-and-out attempts at physical harm to me.” (Robinson 18) Branch Rickey, who was viewed as Mr. Rickey to Robinson, was the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time. He was the guy that greatly supported Robinson’s pursuit to break the color barrier and simply just be able to play the sport he loved. Rickey had very strong beliefs when it came to race as he would call out players and ask them to leave if they had a problem with Robinson being on the team. I wish there were more people around the clubhouse on Rickey’s side of being against racial prejudice. I think Robinson would have had an easier time just playing baseball and enjoying the game even though he did an amazing job at ignoring the noise all around him. A lot of the people that praised him during that 1940s and 1950s time period were because of his talent in the sport. It would have been greater if it was more than that, but it’s great to know that numerous amounts of people focused more on his all-star level of play instead of thinking of him as being the only black player in baseball and that it was a major problem.
After Robinson tells us what it was like playing for the first time, he begins with a chronology of his life leading up to his adult days of him being in professional sports. He tells us he was the youngest of six children in a family raised in Cairo, Georgia. His family consisted of sharecroppers, which were tenant farmers who gave parts of each crop as rent. His parents were married in 1909 way before his birth, and his father, unfortunately, left the family when he was just a half-year-old. Because of this, he was raised by his single mother Madella. She moved the family to Los Angeles in California because she saw more opportunities for her six children. She worked two intense full-time jobs, which would later inspire Jackie Robinson to be more determined in his work ethic. He greatly expresses his appreciation towards his mother because he wouldn’t have been able to make it as far in his dreams if it weren’t for her. “I remember, even as a small boy, having a lot of pride in my mother. I thought she must have some kind of magic to be able to do all the things she did, to work so hard and never complain, and to make us all feel happy. At a very early age, I began to want to relieve her in any small way I could. I was happy whenever I had money to give her.” (Robinson 27) It’s clear that his early childhood was a key to his future success even though there was a lot of obstacles because of his family’s poor wealth and his father leaving when he was just a baby. His mother was one of those main reasons because she kept him and his siblings going throughout his childhood. I personally appreciate that Robinson thanked the many people that contributed to his famous status and didn’t just ignore and make it seem like he was the only one that was able to push through the obstacles. Robinson also lets us know that he met his wife Rachel Isum when he attended UCLA college. She was a psychiatric nurse that also supported him throughout his career as the first black baseball player. His writing truly shows his loving and amazing character. He well-documents his life throughout explaining in a lot of detail the issues in his family and struggle with discrimination. I learned that his grandfather was a slave, which made sense considering slavery was around not long before his existence.
Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs during college before his eventual place on the Brooklyn Dodgers in the professionals. He caught a lot of attention for his talent. Keep in mind that his time playing baseball in college was in an all-black league. So, he wasn’t close to breaking the color barrier in sports just yet. Around the time he attended college, he was dragged into the army during World War II. It was very interesting because he was serving in Hawaii before being transferred two days before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. I can’t imagine what would have happened to him if he was forced to endure the effects of that fight between the Americans and the Japanese. Robinson also expresses the hardships he and African Americans faced in the military. They couldn’t even sit down when seats were available during their time in vehicles and buildings, which was very similar to the struggle blacks faced on buses during the middle 1900s. Robinson wasn’t afraid to show his anger towards racial inequality. “Pure rage took over; I was so angry that I asked him if he knew how close his wife had ever been to a nigger. I was shouting at the top of my voice. Every typewriter in headquarters stopped. The clerks were frozen in disbelief at the way I ripped into the major. Colonel Longley’s office was in the same headquarters, and it was impossible for him not to hear me. The major couldn’t get a word in edgewise, and finally, he hung up. I was sitting there, still fuming, when Warrant Officer Chambers advised me to go to Colonel Longley immediately and tell him what had happened.” (Robinson 38) Because of his choice to be angry towards his white superiors, he was punished in various ways including his obligation to go to court. I can’t express my gratitude enough for his bravery in standing up for what he thought was right. Robinson thought African Americans should be treated equally of course even in the military forces. It’s wonderful to realize the fact he got his wish sort of when the race started becoming equal after he became the first black professional athlete. Now today there are so many baseball players from all races in the professionals including all types of sports.
Despite the flack, he received from being a black individual in a 99 percent white league, Robinson tells us the positive relationships he had with numerous players and the staff of the Dodgers team including the racist sportswriter and owner. Even though at times he didn’t get along with other men around the clubhouse, he tells us why in the end they were able to ignore the elephant in the room and just go out on the field and play some baseball. That’s really all the players should have been doing. Robinson and all those players were extremely skilled and should’ve been there to represent their team, and not themselves. Baseball like any sport is a team game, so I savor the fact that that the whole organization eventually went through everything as a team no matter the obstacle. It took eight years for Robinson to win a championship after he played his first game as the first African American baseball player, but in the end, it was worth it. I’m sure it was truly worth seeing the growth the community had during the decade of Jackie Robinson’s career. The color barrier improved because of the determination and the intense work ethic he gave in the sport. And I would assume tons of baseball fanatics from all races in the United States was saddened by Jackie’s decision to retire in 1957. He had a career batting average of .311, along with 137 home runs and 734 runs batted in. His writing shows what it truly takes to make a great autobiography. A lot of time and thinking is required. I think he wanted to let us readers know many details that were always left out of his story. I’m thankful that he was able to finish his telling of his life in this book before his death in 1972. I can greatly create imagery in my mind as I read his description.
I would highly recommend this story to people who appreciate the historical figures that paved way for racial equality and the many sports fans like the ones in, particularly baseball. I think they would completely realize why Jackie Robinson’s jersey number 42 is retired in all major league baseball, and why the MLB celebrates an annual Jackie Robinson Day. The amazing day in sports forces all professional baseball players on every team to wear 42 on their jerseys during the games. Thinking of the number 42 reminds me of the movie that was made because of Jackie Robinson’s contributions to society and inspirations nationwide. I think most people that choose to read the autobiography of Robinson would enjoy the movie titled 42, which was released in 2013 starring Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford. So, I would recommend the film to you and others as well.
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