Icon’s legacy res­onates in this day and age

In a time of re­newed in­tol­er­ance, so­cial un­rest and in­creased racial in­jus­tice, it’s only fit­ting that the PawSox would once again pay re­spects to Jackie Robin­son, a bea­con of hope in the Civil Rights Move­ment

Pawtucket Times - - FRONT PAGE - By JONATHAN BIS­SON­NETTE jbis­son­nette@paw­tuck­et­times.com

PAW­TUCKET — Paw­tucket Red Sox Pres­i­dent Charles Stein­berg said that when Jackie Robin­son broke Ma­jor League Base­ball’s color bar­rier, he was a part of a so­cial phe­nom­e­non.

Un­for­tu­nately, Stein­berg said, the prej­u­dice and racism and hate didn’t end when Robin­son took the field in 1947 and it didn’t end with the Civil Rights Move­ment of the 1960s. Stein­berg said that when he ref­er­ences in­tol­er­ance, “we’re not talk­ing about his­tory, we’re talk­ing about cur­rent events. We’re talk­ing about to­day’s news.”

“I wish it weren’t so,” he con­tin­ued. “I wish we lived in a utopia. Why is it still that there is, just as there was, this sepa­ra­tion? To­day, a word that gets used so much that you can get numb to is hate. In my opin­ion, hate is the hard­ened form of the word that forms hate and that’s fear.”

Fear, Stein­berg said, is what sep­a­rates peo­ple, and peo­ple in the 1940s were afraid of Jackie Robin­son and hav­ing other African-Amer­i­cans play.

“It’s the courage to rec­og­nize that fear can be over­come with ap­proach, em­brace, learn­ing, find­ing out some­one’s story,” Stein­berg said.

Stein­berg’s words ref­er­enced the past and present and his hope for a more uni­fied future dur­ing the PawSox’ sec­on­dan­nual cel­e­bra­tion of Robin­son’s life and his im­pact on base­ball and so­ci­ety. Held Satur­day in the PawSox’ home club­house at McCoy Sta­dium, the fete was at­tended by for­mer base­ball play­ers, dig­ni­taries, politi­cians, and mem­bers of the Tol­man High School base­ball team.

For­mer Bos­ton Red Sox out­fielder and Red Sox Hall of Famer Tommy Harper said that Robin­son made it pos­si­ble for African-Amer­i­cans to play pro­fes­sional sports in Amer­ica and that his per­for­mance opened up dif­fer­ent at­ti­tudes.

“In the era of Jackie Robin­son, African-Amer­i­cans had no civil rights, there were no laws to pre­vent ho­tels from dis­crim­i­nat­ing against African-Amer­i­cans, you couldn’t en­ter a ho­tel, you couldn’t eat in a restau­rant,” Harper said. “That’s the en­vi­ron­ment that Jackie Robin­son came up through and we’re here as a trib­ute to Jackie Robin­son for his­tory’s sake to keep his legacy go­ing.”

Harper asked the at­tended crowd to imag­ine the pres­sure of play­ing base­ball and try­ing not to fight back through all he had to en­dure.

“There was no way you could play base­ball in that era and let it get to you. I tell young play­ers you have to fo­cus on what is im­por­tant to you, that’s what I’m fo­cus­ing on,” Harper said. “Noth­ing can keep us from our goals, not in this coun­try. That’s what I al­ways take away.”

Af­ter Harper en­dured his share of racial taunts and crit­i­cism as a ballplayer with seven dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions, he fur­ther re­al­ized what Robin­son went through and what he meant to his­tory.

“The more I learned about him and what he went through, the more I re­spected him,” he said. “We can do this be­cause we know what he went through.”

For­mer Bos­ton Mayor Ray­mond Flynn rem­i­nisced about at­tend­ing Bos­ton Braves home games as a youth and car­ry­ing Jackie Robin­son’s bags from the locker room to his taxi.

“I’ve worked with popes, I’ve worked with pres­i­dents, I’ve worked with prime min­is­ters, but this is the man that has such a pro­found ef­fect on me,” Flynn said.

“The rea­son why I love Jackie Robin­son and ad­mire him and fol­lowed his ca­reer is be­cause he, more than any other Amer­i­can, changed all that. You read about pres­i­dents, these fa­mous politi­cians, Supreme Court de­ci­sions, this is the man who re­ally gave it all at the start,” Flynn said. “He opened the door for the great­est ath­letes to play in the great­est games.”

Stein­berg also called on the Tol­man High School ballplay­ers in at­ten­dance to be­ware of stereo­types, con­front them, and find out the truth.

“Now it’s go­ing to be pri­mar­ily up to you to say what kind of world do we want to con­struct, what kind of coun­try do we want to live in? It’s the great­est op­por­tu­nity you have in the world,” Stein­berg told the stu­dents.

Tol­man High se­nior Timothy Greene said that as a base­ball player in this era, the thought of racism on the ball­field is some­thing that he can­not com­pre­hend. He said to hear peo­ple shed light on what they had to en­dure while play­ing a game, par­tic­u­larly play­ers on the team eat­ing meals sep­a­rate from their team­mates, up­set him.

“I’m a team guy, if I see one team­mate not be­ing able to par­tic­i­pate, it makes me mad,” Greene said.

Aaron Massey, also a se­nior ballplayer at Tol­man, said that as a white per­son, he’s not in a sim­i­lar po­si­tion to that of Robin­son or Harper and the racism they had to en­dure. If he were in their sit­u­a­tion, how­ever, Massey said he’s un­sure if he’d be able to han­dle it with the class and dig­nity akin to Robin­son or Harper.

“It’s pretty amaz­ing to hear what he en­dured and still played ball,” Massey said, call­ing Harper’s words “in­spir­ing.”

Tol­man se­nior Peter Mi­croulas echoed his team­mate’s sen­ti­ment, say­ing the day it­self was a great source of in­spi­ra­tion and that he was im­pressed by Robin­son con­tin­u­ing to pur­sue his goal of play­ing Ma­jor League Base­ball de­spite all of the im­ped­i­ments peo­ple put in his way.

Ge­orge Mitro­vich, chair­man of The Great Fen­way Park and Great Washington Writ­ers Se­ries, em­ceed the event. He said that there was no more im­por­tant African-Amer­i­can than Robin­son, as the na­tion en­tered a new phase of its his­tory be­cause of his break­ing of base­ball’s color bar­rier.

“We have come a long way but look at the world around us, we’ve got a long way to go,” Mitro­vich said. “The les­son of Jackie’s life is that you treat ev­ery­body with re­spect, that you treat ev­ery­one with dig­nity, and that you ac­cept ev­ery­one. That’s the les­son that I took from this ex­tra­or­di­nary per­son’s life.”

Bos­ton Red Sox Poet Lau­re­ate Dick Flavin said that Robin­son had to suf­fer “all these slings and ar­rows” to serve the greater cause of de­seg­re­gat­ing base­ball. While he is viewed his­tor­i­cally by many as some­what of a saintly fig­ure, Robin­son was also a “tough, hard guy” who would not stand for be­ing in­sulted.

“The hard­est thing was to keep his tem­per when all of these slurs and in­sults came his way,” Flavin said. “For the first three years, he wasn’t go­ing to an­swer those in­sults that came hot and heavy. This was a racist coun­try 70 years ago. Af­ter those first three years, the slurs abated, they knew you don’t want to get Jackie mad, he’ll hurt you on the ball­field.”

Robin­son would have turned 98 on Tuesday, the eve of Black His­tory Month. In 1997, Ma­jor League Base­ball Com­mis­sioner Al­lan H. “Bud” Selig an­nounced that Robin­son’s jersey num­ber, 42, was to be the first num­ber ever re­tired by ev­ery club in Ma­jor League Base­ball. The only time the num­ber 42 is seen on a Ma­jor League Base­ball field an­nu­ally is on April 15, the an­niver­sary of Robin­son’s big-league de­but, when ev­ery player wears the num­ber.

Robin­son was in­ducted into the Na­tional Base­ball Hall of Fame in 1962. His ac­co­lades in­clude be­ing named Na­tional League Rookie of the Year in 1947, Na­tional League Most Valu­able Player in 1949, a six­time All-Star, and a mem­ber of Ma­jor League Base­ball’s All-Cen­tury Team. He re­tired with a .311 bat­ting av­er­age and more than 1,500 ca­reer hits over 10 sea­sons with the Dodgers.

Pic­tured, clock­wise from top, Paw­tucket Red Sox Pres­i­dent Charles Stein­berg speaks dur­ing Satur­day’s Jackie Robin­son fes­tiv­i­ties; Red Sox Hall of Famer Tommy Harper shared his stories with the stu­dent-ath­letes from Tol­man High School, and shed light on how Robin­son paved the way for other African-Amer­i­can base­ball play­ers like him­self; and for­mer Mayor of Bos­ton and Prov­i­dence Col­lege bas­ket­ball alum Ray Flynn also joined the club­house dis­cus­sion about how Robin­son's courage im­pacted many of his bas­ket­ball team­mates. Robin­son would have turned 98 on Jan. 31, the eve of Black His­tory Month.

Pho­tos by Louri­ann Mardo-Zayat/lmzart­works@gmail.com

Pho­tos by Louri­ann Mardo-Zayat/lmzart­works@gmail.com

Base­ball play­ers from Tol­man High School in Paw­tucket joined the PawSox in cel­e­brat­ing the life of Jackie Robin­son on Satur­day. In pre­sent­ing a $1,000 check to the Jackie Robin­son Foun­da­tion, the team is joined by Paw­tucket Red Sox Pres­i­dent Charles Stein­berg, sec­ond from left, and for­mer Ma­jor Lea­guer Tommy Harper, far right.

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