Thursday, April 18, 2013

149. Jackie Robinson: A Great Day in Jersey City

Today's post is a re-working of one of my oldest ones on the site. While I liked the original drawing, times change and my style has evolved a bit so when I wanted to include Jackie in my new edition of 21, I decided it was time to give him an update. Since Robinson's first appearance in 1946 was such a momentous occasion, and being from New Jersey, I wanted to show a bit of the old ballpark in Jersey City where the game took place. That's Roosevelt Stadium's distinctive scoreboard in the background. I liked this drawing so much I made it a full-page illustration in 21. I tried to depict Robinson as being full of confidence, ready to take the field for the first time, the weight of a whole race upon his able shoulders. It was an important day and I wanted to make this an important drawing.

67 years ago today, Jackie Robinson sat in the visitor's locker room of Jersey City's Roosevelt Stadium. Suiting up with his Montréal Royals teammates, Robinson was about to do what no black man had done since 1899 - play in an organized baseball game. Johnny Wright, another black ballplayer was on the roster that day, too, but Wright was a pitcher and was not going to play. Once the bands stopped and Mayor Hague threw out the first ball, Robinson was on his own. Opening Day in Jersey City was a big deal back then, a city-wide holiday. The Hague political machine that ran the city since 1917 expected every single municipal employee to purchase a ticket in order to give Jersey City the largest opening day crowd every year. Although 25,000 fans streamed through the turnstiles that afternoon, twice than number was sold. Still, with 25,000, Jersey City easily led the International League in attendance that day, and they got to witness history being made.

From the story accompanying the illustration in 21:

When Jackie Robinson took the field at Jersey City’s Roosevelt Stadium on April 18, 1946 he became the first black ballplayer in organized baseball since 1899. Robinson’s fame as a college athlete, his university education, and experience as an army officer made him the perfect man for a very difficult job. Many Negro League ballplayers expressed disappointment that he was to be the first to integrate the game. His manager with Montréal silently questioned whether or not a black man was even human. Bob Feller, who pitched against Robinson in 1945, thought so little of his talent said “If he were a white man, I doubt if they would even consider him big league material, except perhaps as a bat boy.” Robinson faced it all with quiet dignity and strength. In that first game in Jersey City he went 4 for 5, including a three-run homer, scored 4 runs, drove in 3 and stole 2 bases. Overcoming immense racial pressure, Jackie won over his teammates and fans with his natural physical ability and intense drive to win. Sparked by his play, Montréal won the Little World Series of 1946 and the next year he was playing for Brooklyn. Through his sheer determination Jackie Robinson not only paved the way for the desegregation of the major leagues but also the modern civil rights movement. 

Don't forget the card I posted yesterday of Happy Chandler, the Commissioner of Baseball who backed up Branch Rickey when he wanted to bring Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers.

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