I've been on a bit of a break lately - well, not really a break. You see, I kind of got bogged down with some research-heavy stories and I keep getting sucked further and further into them. I don't want to spoil anything, but one is a big Joe DiMaggio story about a period in his career that no one has really written about in any depth before. I want to do as thorough a job as I can, and that means exhausting all possible leads, and in this case it actually involves a cross-country to the west coast to explore an untapped archive. This story is so involved, with all kinds of sidebars, so I'll probably make it the cover story of the next issue of '21' (you should SEE the illustration I did for it - it's one of my best so far!). I'm also traveling for business, and although I brought two giant folders of other research with me, I haven't finished anything yet.
Usually the hard part is finding time to do the drawings, but in this case I have at least 10 new drawings ready to go, just waiting for a story to go with it. In the meantime, I thought I'd toss out an oldie but a goodie. I'm currently writing for a major auction house and I've had some pretty major Jackie Robinson memorabilia cross my desk this week. So, in honor of the man himself, I re-give you Jackie Robinson and the very beginning of his pro baseball career...
the summer of 1944 2nd Lieutenant Jack Robinson found himself at Camp
Breckinridge, an infantry replacement training depot in the hills of
western Kentucky. The war had been rough for Robinson - not on the
battlefields of France or a nameless island in the Pacific, but at home
in a racial war whose injuries were not physical but mental.
the war Jackie Robinson was a well-known collegiate athlete. His
exploits as a track star at UCLA set numerous records and his skills on
the gridiron made the sports page from coast to coast. If he had been
white, Jackie Robinson would have had to fight off offers from National
Football League teams upon graduation. Instead Robinson took a position
with a government-run athletic program which quickly folded. Looking for
employment, Robinson took the most lucrative sports job he could find -
semi-pro football in Hawaii. After a successful 1941 season, Robinson
booked passage on a steamship back to Los Angeles. On Sunday, December
7th, 1941 he was contemplating his next move when the Japanese decided
it for him.
23 year-old Robinson received his draft notice in early 1942. After
basic training with a cavalry regiment he and several other black
soldiers requested a transfer to officer's candidate school. Robinson's
natural leadership qualities and UCLA education made him ideal officer
material but his skin color worked against him. His transfer was put on
the back-burner until boxer Joe Lewis stepped in to help open the gate
allowing black soldiers to attend officer's school. By January 1943 the
former college star was 2nd Lieutenant Jack Robinson,U.S. Army.
was assigned to the 761st Tank Battalion at Ft. Hood Texas. Known as
the "Black Panthers", the 761st would go on to earn a distinguished
combat record serving under General Patton in Europe. For two reasons
Lt. Robinson wasn't one of them.
of strenuous athletic activity had left Robinson with an old ankle
injury that required testing to guarantee he was combat-ready. On
afternoon while awaiting the results of the test, Robinson boarded an
integrated Army bus and took a seat near the front. When the driver told
Robinson to sit in the back he flatly refused. The driver reported the
incident to the Military Police who took the insolent lieutenant in
custody. The commander of the 761st flatly refused to prosecute his
young officer but the matter was taken out of his hands when Robinson
was transferred to another battalion. His new commanding officer happily
signed off on court-martial proceedings before the ink was dry on his
a humiliating trial in which he was acquitted of all charges, Robinson
found himself a soldier without an army. His unit had deployed to Europe
during his court martial and medical tests found his ankle was tender
enough to keep him out of combat. The trial had made news and his
superiors at Ft. Hood didn't want him around so he was transferred to
another black unit, the 372nd Infantry Regiment.
372nd had a brilliant battle record from the first world war. The units
shoulder patch was a red hand on a white disk trimmed in blue and red.
This striking insignia was bestowed on the regiment by the French Army
of Africa with which the unit had fought with in 1918. By the time Lt.
Robinson caught up with the regiment at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky it
was being used as a feeder unit that trained replacement infantry
troops. As a distinguished college athlete, Robinson was named the
regiment's athletic director.
was only a temporary assignment. Robinson's fight against the bogus
court marshal gained him a reputation as a hard case, and with a bum
ankle he wasn't any good for combat. The army decided to discharge him.
In the meantime, Robinson waited for the slow moving paperwork to wind
its way through Army bureaucracy by keeping the recruits occupied with
afternoon Robinson happened upon a soldier throwing big league curve
balls on the baseball field. The soldier was Ted Alexander, a former
pitcher with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League.
Robinson had had a brush with Negro League baseball back before the war
when a traveling blackball team had played a pickup team which Robinson
was a part of. When the game ended the team took off without giving
Robinson his agreed upon money for the exhibition. The whole experience
left Robinson with a bad taste in his mouth and a lingering distrust of
black baseball operations. When Robinson told Alexander
of his concerns about post-army employment, the pitcher revealed the
the Monarchs were always hiring good talent. The war had hit black
baseball as hard as the white version with many of its good players in
the service. However with many blacks now employed in high paying war
industry jobs, blackball was the most popular diversion for their
new-found disposable income. The Negro Leagues were experiencing their
most profitable period in their history.
The former Monarchs pitcher surely related all this to Robinson and before the two men parted ways Alexander
had given the Lieutenant Kansas City Monarchs' owner Tom Baird's
contact information. When he received his honorable discharge in
November of 1944, Robinson wrote to the Monarchs inquiring about a
position. In the meantime he took a job as athletic director at Sam
Huston College in Austin, Texas. When spring rolled around the Monarchs
sent Robinson a $400 a month contract and instructed him to report for
Jackie Robinson's baseball career had begun.
If you're anything like me, you probably think that cap Jackie is wearing is pretty darn cool, right? Will Arlt at the Ideal Cap Co. thought the same thing, too, and decided to reproduce these little babies. You can check them out HERE.