Dodger Great: Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing spoke to a large group of Poly High students about the life and legacy of Jackie Robinson last Monday during the Reel Talk Film Series Community Tour in Long Beach.
PHOTO BY EARL WILLIAMS
42 IS A HIT WITH STUDENTS
Inaugural Beloved Community Awareness Week: The film is a part of a tribute to the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Jackie Robinson was a huge supporter of King and marched with him during non-violent protests.
By Earl Williams
LONG BEACH - In 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers Team President and minority owner, Branch Rickey, told Jackie Robinson that they could break the shackles of segregation in Major League Baseball.
This could be only achieved if Robinson showed his critics that he was a fine gentleman, having enough guts to not meet his enemies on their low ground. It was also imperative for him to showcase his exceptional baseball IQ, skills, athleticism and instinct to compete with whites.
Robinson, not known for turning the other cheek, did exactly that.
The former UCLA and John Muir High student-athlete showed extraordinary restraint in the face of racial slurs and baseballs thrown at his head. That was the short list.
In fact, his heroics on the base pads and at the plate earned him the inaugural ML Rookie of the Year honors, as he broke baseball color lines.
Fans voted Robinson, a second baseman, to six consecutive All-Star games, the first one in 1949, the same year he became the National League Most Valuable Player. He led the NL in batting and steals and became the first African-American to complete in the summer All-Star classic.
This week, applause and cheers could be heard from auditoriums across the Southland as the movie “42’’ barnstormed to several sites during the Reel Talk Film Series Community Screening Tour 2019, which is a part of the “Beloved Community Awareness Week.’’
The tour not only celebrated the centennial of Robinson’s birth in 1919, but touched on his work in civil rights. Robinson marched and participated in other activities with Martin Luther King Jr.
The festival also featured “The Rosa Parks Story.’’
Parks, an NAACP member, refused to give up her seat on a bus and was jailed in Montgomery, Ala. Her jailing led to the 1955 boycott, adding fuel to the fire of the civil rights movement.
The grand finale of the festival is 10 a.m. Tuesday at Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA, where Robinson lettered in baseball, football, basketball and track and field.
“It’s an honor to be here educating these kids about history,’’ said Kenny Landaux, a former outfielder on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 1981 World Series championship team that defeated the New York Yankees. “Jackie Robinson was real inspirational to me by being one of the first black players in professional baseball … opening the door for us. He was definitely a trailblazer.’’
Landaux was one of several former Dodgers greats to speak during the tour, which included pitcher Al Downing and outfielder Derrel Thomas.
Downing— who, in 1974, threw the iconic pitch that Hank Aaron hit over left-field wall to surpass Babe Ruth as MLB home-run king (715)— praised Robinson for his courage and strength in the face of adversity.
All of the speakers talked about Robinson, their heydays in the league and stressed the importance of getting a great education.
“This was a wonderful experience for the students,’’ said Errol Parker, a volunteer academic advisor at Long Beach Poly High. “A lot of times, young people don’t understand history and what Jackie Robinson went through. … He was a great American hero. I am glad to be associated with this program so young people can know what he did and the racial barriers he had to break down, which (now) makes this country great.’’
Robinson, who also once played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League and the Montreal Royals of the Class AAA International League, spoke out against segregation. For instance, in 1952, during a “Youth Wants to Know” television show, he challenged New York Yankee general manager George Weiss’ poor record on signing Negro players. His record was zero.
After Robinson’s retirement from MLB in 1956, he became more involved with the civil rights movement. He is shown in a plethora of classic black and photos with Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders at marches and meetings. He protested against the lack of minority managers and central office personnel in MLB.
In the community, he helped found the Freedom National Bank.
He served as the first black television analyst in MLB and also became the first black vice president of a major corporation - Chuck full o’ Nuts.
By that time, notable players such as MLB All-Star center fielder Lawrence “Larry” Doby and pitcher Leroy Robert “Satchel" Paige had followed Robinson in to the majors.
Doby became the first African-American American League Player. In 1948, Doby and Paige of the Cleveland Indians became the first African-American players to win a World Series title.
Henry Edwards, an eighth-grader at Roosevelt Middle School in Compton, said, “(The Jackie Robinson movie ) taught us about how to overcome people (who hate on you). You can do (whatever) you want in life … just put your mind to it.”
In 1947, Robinson led the league in steals and went on to complete in six World Series. He made significant contributions to the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers who defeated the Yankees four games to three to win the World Series.
Robinson's arrival to the Dodgers wasn’t well received by all of his teammates. Some refused to compete on the same field. However, players like Pee Wee Reese embraced him. During an away game, Reese put his arm around Robinson in front of a hostile crowd. It silenced hecklers in the stadium.
In 1962, Robinson was elected to the MLB Hall of Fame. Ten years later, the Los Angeles Dodgers retired his jersey. In 1999, Robinson, a former second lieutenant of the segregated U.S. Army, was selected to the MLB All-Century Team.
"I loved the movie,'' said Alejandra Lopez, who competes in softball at MLB Youth Academy in Compton. "I believe it showed how minority groups - Hispanics, blacks they could also achieve their dreams. ... It doesn't matter what color of your skin.''
In 2004, MLB established “Jackie Robinson Day,’’ a day when every player in the league wears 42 in his honor. His career battling average was .311 with 734 RBI. He also had 197 stolen bases.
“Playing the movie ’42’ went very well I think,’’ said Darrell Miller, the director of the MLB Youth Academy in Compton and a former Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim catcher. “It was a reminder of how important Jackie Robinson is to America ... and to all of us.
“Breaking the color barrier broke a lot of barriers in regards to how African Americans and others of color,’’ Miller continued. “(We) can participate in society— vote, marry whomever we like and live where we like to live. There’s a lot (of great things) started with the birth of Jackie Robinson. (The movie) was exciting. We owe him a lot.’’
Earlier this year, MLB announced that the former Spring Training site of the Los Angeles/Brooklyn Dodgers-- known as Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla.-- would be renamed the Jackie Robinson Training Complex.
“Major League Baseball has been inspired to take over Dodgertown, where Jackie Robinson and others like him were able to play, sleep and do what they needed to do to prepare for the season in Florida under rules that did not allow this,’’ Miller said about the safe haven. “We are very proud of being able to keep the legacy of Jackie Robinson alive, … teach the youth who come to serve and train… about how important Jackie Robinson is, was and always will be to all of us.’’