Too often in our society we put elite athletes on a pedestal so high that they are referred to as heroes and we talk about the so-called adversity they face. This, of course, is laughable on every level.
Heroes are the policeman, fireman and the rest of the first responders who selflessly helped the innocent victims of the Boston Marathon attack earlier this week. Kobe Bryant wasn’t heroic for walking to the free throw line to make two shots after tearing his Achilles tendon. LeBron James didn’t face any actual real life adversity when he won his first championship last June.
Monday and Tuesday of this week marked the time of year when Major League Baseball honors the late Brooklyn Dodgers’ second basemen by having every player wear a No. 42 jersey with no name on the back. Robinson embodied everything that we talk about when describing heroes who overcome adversity.
While watching the new film chronicling Robinson’s 1946 and 1947 season, “42”, I marveled what it must have felt like to deal with all the vitriol on a daily basis. The character he displayed is beyond anything you could imagine.
When Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, he endured verbal abuse, which you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Remarkably, his skills as a baseball player are still incredibly underrated.
Robinson played 10 seasons for the Dodgers, winning the Rookie of the Year in 1947, but he was at his best in the six seasons from 1949-1954.
Robinson’s 1949 MVP season is something to marvel at 64 years later.
Robinson hit a league best .342 with a .432 on base percentage and a .528 slugging percentage. Robinson also hit 16 homers, knocked in 124 runs and struck out only 27 times in 704 at bats, while walking 86 times. As if those numbers weren’t gaudy enough, Robinson also accumulated 203 hits, scored 122 runs, and registered 38 doubles and 12 triples.
Over the next five seasons, Robinson never hit worse than .308, and in that 1952 season he notched an eye popping .440 on base percentage. One of the iconic images of Robinson’s career is when he stole home in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series under the tag of Yankee catcher Yogi Berra’s. Berra’s incredulous reaction has become stuff of legend.
The play was a perfect example of the kind of pressure Robinson put on the defense whenever he had the opportunity to do so.
Robinson did all this in his 30s, when he was supposed to be past his prime years. The unfortunate aspect of the times which Robinson played was that he didn’t debut until he was 28 years old. One can only imagine the numbers he would have accumulated had he not been excluded for those years due to his skin color.
Robinson made an extremely humble gesture when he asked the Hall of Fame committee to view his chances for induction on his play on the field statistics, instead of the impact he had by breaking the color barrier. It’s an interesting thought six and a half decades since his debut.
When you think of Robinson, it’s virtually impossible to split his profound impact on the African American community from his great, but short playing career.
Great young baseball players come around every year, but very rarely do we get a transcendent star that impacts so many facets of society.
Jackie Robinson was that important and he still is all these years later.
Jackie was a hero in every sense of the word, and we should never forget that.