Robinson’s Macon appearance was special

bobbypope428@gmail.comJune 11, 2012 

Filming of the movie ”42,” the biopic about baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson, is continuing in Macon at several locations, including historic Luther Williams Field.

As anyone with a passing interest in baseball knows, Robinson was the first black player in the modern era to play in the majors, breaking the color barrier in 1947. Robinson also broke the color barrier in the state of Georgia at Luther Williams in 1949 when the Brooklyn Dodgers, on their way north to open the season, played an exhibition game against the Macon Peaches. A paid crowd of 6,436, a Macon record at the time, saw that game, with Robinson getting three hits as Brooklyn beat the locals 11-2.

Don Banks, owner of Capitol Cycle Company in Macon, was 16 at the time and worked at Luther Williams that season as the visiting team’s bat boy and recalls the crowd being about equally split between the races.

“I remember standing in the on-deck circle telling Robinson that he had a lot of fans, and he said, ‘It’s always good to have fans,’ ” Banks said.

Robinson already had ties to the state prior to that game, having been born in Cairo in 1919. He lived there only a year before his mother moved the family to Pasadena, Calif., after his father deserted them.

He blossomed into quite an all-around athlete in Pasadena, starring in football, basketball, baseball and track and field at John Muir High School, Pasadena Community College and at UCLA. Robinson was the first four-sport letter winner in Bruins history and one of just four blacks on the team.

Woody Strode, who became an actor and starred in “Spartacus,” was a teammate, and Kenny Washington, the first black player to sign in the NFL, was another.

Following his college days, Robinson played semi-pro football in Hawaii for the Honolulu Bears for a year before joining the U.S. Army, where he attained the rank of second lieutenant. While serving, he was arrested and court-martialed after refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus. He was later acquitted and received an honorable discharge. He then played baseball in the Negro League before being singled out by Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey, who will be played by Harrison Ford in “42,” as the man to integrate baseball.

Robinson played with the previously all-white Montreal Royals in 1946 before beginning a 10-year career with the Dodgers in 1947.

While in the majors, Robinson, was the winner of baseball’s first Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, was the NL MVP in 1949, played in six World Series, also appeared in six All-Star games and finished his career with a .311 batting average. He stole home 19 times in his decade with the Dodgers. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962, and all teams retired her jersey in 1997.

The only player in the big leagues still wearing No. 42 is the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera. When he retires, the Yankees will set that number aside, as well.

After his baseball career ended in 1956, Robinson entered the business world as a vice president with Chock Full O’ Nuts and continued his work in the civil rights movement, serving as a spokesperson for the NAACP. He also made appearances with Martin Luther King. In addition, he became baseball’s first black television analyst.

Robinson died of a heart attack in 1972.

It will be almost a year before “42” is released. It is set to open on April 12, 2013, to coincide with Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day on April 15, marking the day in which he broke the color barrier.

Contact Bobby Pope at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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