Picture Portfolio No. 2: Jackie Robinson

If Babe Ruth was the first in this projected series of picture portfolios, Jackie Robinson must be the second. Ruth was the game’s greatest player; Robinson was its most important. Both were American heroes whose exploits and character transcended the game. Here’s what Alan Schwarz and I wrote ten years ago, in Total Baseball, about Ruth and Robinson. We wrote a longish entry titled “Baseball’s 100 Most Important People.”

Now, a word about No. 1. It came down to two people—Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson—who ascended above everyone else for reasons about which you soon will read. But choosing between them for the top spot was an excruciating decision, extending beyond baseball to the United States at large. In fact, it was only after recognizing the breadth of the argument that we finally chose Ruth. Babe Ruth, by virtue of his talent and charisma, carried baseball from the depths of the Black Sox scandal into modern eminence; who changed the mindset of the sport from speed to slugging; and who was, lest we forget, baseball’s best all-around talent ever. Jackie Robinson too holds a monumental place in the game’s history, a spectacular player who, by virtue of breaking baseball’s longstanding color barrier and carrying himself with unwavering mettle afterward, receives credit for helping spark the modern civil-rights movement. 

We also wrote a capsule biography of Robinson, about whom it might be said that, like Lincoln, we think we have read it all before. But then somebody comes up with some new and surprising facts, some fresh, unique perspective. I suspect we will keep talking about Lincoln and Robinson all our lives, for while heroes are forever, our view of them continually evolves.


What players wouldn’t have been in the Hall of Fame if integration had begun in 1903 for instance rather than 1947? An interesting question to ponder as well as which black players would have made it in

thehman999―An interesting question indeed, my friend. Of those former Negro League legends who have yet to be inducted into Cooperstown, my first choice would be Cannonball Dick Redding. Leaving the arch-nemesis of Smokey Joe Williams (named the greatest pitcher in the history of the Negro Leagues in a 1952 Pittsburgh Courier poll) to languish outside the Hall is like electing Christy Mathewson while ignoring Mordecai Brown!

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I’m enjoying the new portfolio series very much, revisiting old favorites and discovering new ones as well. My favorite photo of Jackie Robinson is absent here, however, possibly because of its historical context. It’s the one in which Robinson stands in the foreground watching as Bobby Thomson scores the winning run in the final 1951 NL playoff game. (The picture in question can be viewed on various blogs but for those who are unfamiliar with it, I will direct you to the following Web page:
http://www.legendaryauctions.com/ItemImages/000047/36709_lg.jpeg.) What interests me about the photograph is looking at what the people in the photograph are looking at:

>> The triumphant Giants are looking at Bobby Thomson.
>> The photographers are looking at the Giants looking at Bobby Thomson.
>> Bobby Thomson is simply looking very happy indeed.

Four others are in the picture: Ralph Branca, the losing pitcher, has turned his back on the celebration at home plate and is slowly the long trudge to the visiting clubhouse in center field (where he will shortly become the subject of yet another photo, Pulitzer Prize-winning one). A uniformed police officer near home plate is apparently staring at the ground. The other two men are staring at home plate: one is an umpire and the other is Jackie Robinson. Shot-Heard-‘Round-The-World or no, Jackie knew the game wasn’t over until Thomson touched home. If there was the slightest chance the “Staten Island Scot” would somehow be impeded, or like Fred “Bonehead” Merkle back in 1908 simply fail to follow through, Robinson (like another heady Hall of Fame second baseman, Johnny Evers) was ready to pounce.

He was frequently abrasive and occasionally overaggressive (e.g., his unnecessary―and possible costly―steal of home against Boston about a week before this game), but any player who could keep his wits about him and look for a winning edge even when everyone else is ready to call it a day is a player I’d want in my starting lineup―the very definition of “a gamer.”

Follow-up: My bad! On closer examination, the background figure I mistook for a uniformed officer is most likely home plate umpire Lou Jorda and he, like his colleague (probably first base ump Jocko Conlan), is keeping an eye on home plate. So make that three men watching home: two in blue, one in Dodger blue….

Wonderful photo of one of the greatest baseball moments in baseball history

Friends, it would have been easier to show 50 than 15 images of either Ruth or Robinson. I went for those less frequently seen.

And a fine collection it is, Mr. Thorn―more than half of them were new to me. Good job!

Nice photos for sure. You know, hitting the nail on the head about Robinson being the most important of the game. We went to the Hall last year and there’s an energy around Jackie’s exhibit. We take for granted that it wasn’t all that long ago when things were different. Long live Jackie!

Great pictures Mr. Thorn. I am currently watching Ken Burns’ “Baseball” in it’s entirety for the fourth time. That series is compelling in too many ways to count. From Buck O’Neil”s telling of the Satchel Paige/Josh Gibson ’42 Negro League World Series story, to cameos from Mantle and Williams and others, the series is endlessly fascinating to me. But even in a sport with so many gems, the Jackie Robinson story is the highlight for me.

Very much appreciated, Jimmy.

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