By Rich Lowry
The Hendricks County Flyer
Tue Apr 23, 2013, 02:46 PM EDT
As a young man stationed at Camp Hood in Texas during World War II, he got court-martialed. One day, Lt. Robinson refused to move to the back of the bus when the driver told him to, and exploded in rage when the driver called him "n-----." He was arrested, but eventually cleared of all charges.
Rickey hadn't sought out a shrinking violet.
"He wanted someone big enough and strong enough to intimidate," Eig writes, "and someone intelligent enough to understand the historic nature of his role."
We never would have heard of Robinson, of course, if he hadn't been a supremely gifted athlete (Rickey wanted to win the pennant, as well as do right). But baseball history is full of those; it is Robinson's dignity when confronted with so many indignities that sets him apart.
Baseball then had a distinctively Southern flavor that could make even players who were white ethnics feel uncomfortable. A contingent of Robinson's own teammates wanted to boycott him, and so did rival players. He couldn't stay in some of the team's hotels. He got death threats. In a game early in the season, Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman and his players viciously abused him. Robinson envisioned throwing his bat down and attacking his tormentors. During all of this, he slumped and thought about quitting, but kept on going, and eventually his talent spoke louder than words.
A legendary image - memorialized in a bronze statue outside the ballpark of the minor-league Brooklyn Cyclones - is of Kentucky-born Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese draping his arm around Robinson on the field, in a gesture of support and in a rebuke to hostile fans.
It may or may not have happened that way. But it's hard to make a statue to the essence of Robinson's accomplishment, to the lonely resolve one at-bat and one inning at a time.
(c) 2013 by King Features Syndicate
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