An entertaining and equitable examination of Jackie Robinson’s groundbreaking rookie season.
In 1947, major-league baseball was still the exclusive province of white players. Change was in the wind, however, and the progressive president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey, was at the forefront for moral, practical and economic reasons. Rickey signed Robinson, making him the first black player in the majors. Eig (Luckiest Man, 2005) chronicles Robinson’s journey from college-football star to baseball legend, with plenty of digressions to flesh out key participants (and a few too many tangential discourses on less important individuals). While the Negro leagues abounded with talented players, white Americans doubted their ability to handle the pressure of big-league ball. Understanding that overcoming that perception would require players to have more than mere talent, Rickey shrewdly chose a man who wasn’t necessarily the most skilled black player available, Eig contends, but had the greatest will to win. Robinson’s competitive streak outstripped even his considerable athletic gifts, and though he had a sullen, almost combative manner at times, his hide was thick enough to deal with blatant racism from both teammates and opponents, as well as the isolation that came with being forced to eat at different restaurants and stay in different hotels. The author combs through sportswriters’ accounts of Robinson’s landmark summer, supplementing his narrative with interviews with fellow players, spectators and cultural observers. Baseball fans will delight in a detailed account of the ’47 Dodgers-Yankees World Series and revel in the portraits of some of baseball’s more interesting characters, even if they don’t always have much of a connection to Robinson.
Those looking for a cogent analysis of Robinson’s impact on the civil-rights movement and the tribulations faced by a man thrust into the role of trailblazer will be justly rewarded, but they’ll have to sit through nine innings to get to it.