Today marks Jackie Robinson Day in major league baseball, the 75th anniversary of the day Robinson broke the color barrier and changed the world. There’s a new book that looks at Robinson’s impact on the sport, and the United States. I received an ARC of True: The Four Seasons of Jackie Robinson from NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
“For players, fans, managers, and executives, Jackie Robinson remains baseball’s singular figure, the person who most profoundly extended, and continues to extend, the reach of the game. Beyond Ruth. Beyond Clemente. Beyond Aaron. Beyond the heroes of today. Now, a half-century since Robinson’s death, letters come to his widow, Rachel, by the score. But Robinson’s impact extended far beyond baseball: he opened the door for Black Americans to participate in other sports, and was a national figure who spoke and wrote eloquently about inequality.
True: The Four Seasons of Jackie Robinson by Kostya Kennedy is an unconventional biography, focusing on four transformative years in Robinson’s athletic and public life: 1946, his first year playing in the essentially all-white minor leagues for the Montreal Royals; 1949, when he won the Most Valuable Player Award in his third season as a Brooklyn Dodger; 1956, his final season in major league baseball, when he played valiantly despite his increasing health struggles; and 1972, the year of his untimely death. Through it all, Robinson remained true to the effort and the mission, true to his convictions and contradictions.”
I knew a fair amount about Jackie Robinson after watching Ken Burns: Baseball (AmazonPrime Video) and Ken Burns: Jackie Robinson (DVD) (BluRay) (AmazonPrime Video) over the years. And of course, I saw the late great Chadwick Boseman portray Jackie in the 2013 movie 42 (Amazon Prime) I grew up knowing his name and what he did, but it wasn’t until I watched those documentaries that I learned more about the man and the impact he had. True: The Four Seasons of Jackie Robinson (Amazon ) focuses on four years in his life: 1946, 1949, 1956, and 1972, doing a deep dive into the life of the man who started the modern civil rights movement.
Did you know Jackie Robinson was court-marshalled when he served in the army during WWII? Why? He refused to give up his seat on a bus. And at the trial, her argued his case and was acquitted. This was years before Rosa Parks. Yes, Jackie Robinson always had that fire in him, to right the injustice of Jim Crow laws and make the world a better place for blacks. Maybe that was the reason Dodgers owner Branch Rickey put Robinson on his short list of “Negro” (the term used at the time) athletes who might be able to break the color barrier in the big leagues. But everybody knew Jackie had a temper. And Rickey needed someone who wouldn’t fight back, at least, not for the first three years of this “experiment.”
So that’s what Jackie, and his wife, Rachel, did. They faced prejudice and racism and after spring training in the south, moved to Montreal, Canada, where they were treated better than they had been in the south for exhibition games. Let me just say something about Rachel Robinson: she is just as passionate and intelligent as Jackie, and I can guarantee, without her unwavering support, Robinson might not have succeeded. She is powerful in her own right and has continued his quest for equality for lifting up African American children to give them a brighter future.
For three years, Jackie Robinson promised to stay silent despite the taunts and heckling coming from the stands, the opponent’s dugout, and at the beginning the Dodgers dugout. My blood went cold when I heard or read the words flung at Robinson from the sidelines. I do not know how he kept his cool. I couldn’t have. But that’s what made Jackie Robinson so great. He knew if he failed, his whole race would fail, so he had to be better than the best, even when opponents stomped their spikes onto his leg when sliding onto base. Once those three years were up, Jackie began to talk about racial equality, and he didn’t stop until he died in 1972.
This book showed me more sides to Jackie Robinson’s story, and while I normally don’t like hyper-focused biographies, I do have to say that it was a good choice in this case. Kennedy pulls in other narratives, from people who were kids in Brooklyn when Jackie started playing with the Dodgers, to what Martin Luther King, Jr., was doing while Robinson was breaking barriers. It all makes sense as you continue through the book.
All in all, a very interesting look at an extraordinary man. Happy Jackie Robinson Day, America. Let’s not forget how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.
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I’m picking this one up. It sounds fascinating! The story about the bus is intriguing! I never knew that.
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