This day in 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play Major League Baseball. He did so in the face of bigotry and hatred so wicked and vile that his life, at times, may have been in danger. And he did so with grace and fiery, competitive passion.
I won't try to 'out write' my betters who, every year on this day, describe with eloquence the importance of Robinson's achievement. Nor do I desire diminish any thing Robinson did. But there is a piece of the story missing. And it's missed every year on this day as MLB honors Robinson.
I'd like for us, without dimming the lights on Robinson, to shine a light on the part of the story that's annually left in the dark.
There were no black men who had ever played major league baseball. The owners, and to some degree the general managers, perpetuated a system that excluded African Americans.
How did that change? Did Robinson, after an All America career at UCLA, walk off the football field and into the Brooklyn locker room uninvited? Did he just grab the first empty uniform he could find? Did he present himself to manager Leo Durocher and tell him to put him in the lineup? In other words, did Jackie Robinson think of breaking the color barrier on his own, pick a team and show up?
No, he didn't. But the way the story is told, sometimes you might think so. The story is often told with no context. Jackie didn't do it on his own, he couldn't.
No, one of the general managers of the 16 major league teams had to stand up and say, "By God, I'll do this thing, even if nobody else does!" Jackie had to have a contract to play for a major league team. That means a team had to decide to give him one. A man had to decide.
Branch Rickey decided.
Please remember Branch Rickey, too.