Jackie Kept on Fighting Right Until the End
On October 15, 1972 in Cincinnati, Jackie Robinson was honored in an on-field ceremony prior to the first game of the World Series between the Oakland A’s and Cincinnati Reds. Suffering from diabetes, Robinson was losing his sight and walked with a cane; he appeared much older than his 53 years.
“I’m extremely proud and pleased to be here this afternoon,” said Robinson “but must admit, I’m going to be tremendously more pleased and more proud when I look at that third base coaching line and see a black face managing in baseball.” It was a sight Robinson would never see. He died nine days later. But even after his death Robinson continued to serve as an inspiration to the next generation of African Americans in baseball.
Two-and-a-half -years later, future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson became the Major League Baseball’s first African American manger.
In a column written with Roy Blount Jr. for Sports Illustrated magazine in October of 1974, Frank Robinson recalled the impact Jackie Robinson’s presence had on his life and chosen career:
“When Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play big-league baseball I was a kid on the Oakland sandlots, already planning to be a ballplayer. I told my mother that’s what I wanted to be and she said, ‘Then that’s what you will be. Being black didn’t seem to be a factor particularly.
“Then after I’d been in the big leagues myself for five or six years I thought, ‘I want to stay in this game,’ and I started looking forward to managing. It didn’t seem to me that the color of my skin would be a problem. By the time I was ready, I figured, baseball would be.”
On April 5, 1975 Frank Robinson made his managerial debut on Opening Day and as also wrote himself into the lineup as designated hitter, hitting a solo home run off New York Yankees pitcher Doc Medich in front of a crowd of 56,715 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The Indians went on to defeat the Yankees by a score of 5-3.
Jackie Robinson’s widow Rachel was in attendance that day to see one of his last dreams come true. Frank Robinson later recalled what it meant to him for Rachel to be there that day.
“I was very proud that [Rachel Robinson] would make the trip over there. … I hoped and wished that Jackie could have been there. The next best thing was having her there. … because it kept me focused.”
Robinson would manage the Indians for the next two-and-a-half seasons and continue as a big league skipper for five different teams over a 17-year managerial career.
Larry Doby who succeeded Jackie Robinson as the second African-American player in Major League Baseball also followed Frank Robinson as the game’s second African American manager, taking over as skipper for the Chicago White Sox on July 1, 1978.
Since Robinson’s delivered his critique at the 1972 World Series Major League baseball has counted just over a dozen African Americans among its managerial ranks; currently there are three (Dusty Baker, Cincinnati Red, Ron Washington, Texas Rangers and Bo Porter, Houston Astros). Do you think this is still an important issue?