Sarah's Take: Robinson, Rickey historic team

Sarah's Take: Robinson, Rickey historic team

Seventy years ago this past Saturday, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson changed America forever when he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers as a first baseman. Before then, people of color weren't allowed to play in the Major Leagues.

When the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 that having separate facilities for blacks and whites was fine, the United States became a legally segregated country. Now many of us can't comprehend barring players of color from playing in the Major Leagues. Branch Rickey and Robinson had the strength of character and the courage to change the status quo. Their courage made the game and American society better for everyone.

In the 1880s, the owners had a "gentlemen's agreement" that didn't allow blacks to play in the Major Leagues. Several times before 1947, owners wanted to break the "gentlemen's agreement," especially after they realized they were losing profits to the Negro Leagues. However, the first Commissioner of the Major Leagues, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a former federal judge, was a firm believer in keeping the races separated.

In the 1920s, the Negro Leagues were created. They gave many talented black players an opportunity to play professionally. The conditions in the Negro Leagues were different from those in the Major Leagues. The teams in the Negro Leagues sometimes played two or three games a day with a long bus ride in between. The players typically slept on the bus and ate whatever they could find. Segregation in the Major Leagues denied many blacks an opportunity from having Major League careers. Sometimes a group of Major Leaguers barnstormed during the offseason and played Negro League teams. Since the Negro Leagues didn't keep good statistics, it's difficult to judge how good the play was.

Rickey had been a baseball innovator. In the 1920s, while with the St. Louis Cardinals, he developed the farm system. Rickey developed batting helmets and pitching machines. He promoted the use of on-base percentage as a vital baseball statistic, and he was the first person to show a statistical background to platoon players. After becoming the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1942, Rickey was the first general manager in baseball to establish a permanent Spring Training home.

For a long time, Rickey wanted to correct an injustice in the Major Leagues. A devout Methodist, Rickey never played baseball or attended a game on Sunday, and he thought not allowing blacks to play in the Major Leagues was an injustice that should be corrected. However, he wanted to have the correct time and correct player to integrate the sport. Rickey wanted an educated player who grew up in an integrated environment and was a good athlete.

Rickey secretly sent out his most trusted scouts to the Negro Leagues to find that special player. Many people would argue the Negro Leagues had more talented players than Robinson, but Robinson had the other qualities that Rickey wanted.

Born in Georgia, Robinson moved to Pasadena, Calif., when he was a year old. Although he faced prejudice and segregation, he grew up in an integrated environment. Robinson was a four-sport standout at both Pasadena Junior College and UCLA. He didn't finish his four-year college degree because he had financial difficulties. Robinson enlisted in the Army where he was court marshaled for disobeying an officer. He was found not guilty on all charges.

After leaving the Army, Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Baseball League.

Robinson secretly met with Rickey, and the Dodgers president used every racial slur he could think of. Rickey found Robinson was a disciplined, mature man. It was a must, because he would be staying apart from the team since many hotels were segregated. Rickey didn't allow Robinson to react to anything. After spending a year in Montreal with Brooklyn's top farm team, Robinson debuted as a first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. During his rookie year, when he won the first Rookie of the Year Award, he endured many racial incidents, including death threats. In 1949, he won the National League MVP Award. He retired in 1956 and was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. He never saw a black Major League manager before he passed away in 1972.

On Saturday, the Los Angeles Dodgers unveiled their first statue at Dodger Stadium to remember the legacy of Robinson. Although it is proper to honor Robinson, hopefully they soon also will honor Branch Rickey, who had the vision to sign Jackie Robinson and integrate Major League Baseball.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.