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Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit

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Jackie Robinson: Number 42

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

close up photography of four baseballs on green lawn grasses
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My wife and I loved seeing the highly-acclaimed baseball movie 42.  When the movie was finished, no one left, and people began to spontaneously clap.  In the lobby, I met some long-lost friends who told me in great detail how much the movie meant to them.  We were all deeply moved by the costly courage of Jackie Robinson when facing intense hatred.  Robinson was a ground-breaker in both Canada and the United States.  Before playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson played in Canada for the Montreal Royals farm team in 1946. Delirious Montreal fans mobbed Robinson after his scoring the final hit that won them the Little World championship. Sports Reporter Sam Maltin commented: “It was probably the only day in history that a black man ran from a white mob with love instead of lynching on its mind.” Mr. Robinson himself called Montreal “the city that enabled me to go to the major leagues.”

As the first Afro-American to play in Major League Baseball, Robinson faced much prejudice, but turned the other cheek, refusing to retaliate.  Robinson said: “There’s nothing like faith in God to help a fellow who gets booted around once in a while.”  Both Robinson and his Coach Branch Rickey, being committed Christians, knew that loving their enemies was key to a lasting breakthrough in the deeply racist baseball culture.  As Jesus commanded us, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Quoting Giovanni Papini’s book Life of Christ, Rickey called Jesus’ call to turn the other cheek the most stupefying of Jesus’ revolutionary teachings.

Rickey, played well by Harrison Ford, unforgettably said: “I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.” At one point, Rickey pulled out hundreds of hate letters which had been sent to him with threatening messages.  It was consistent nightly prayer that kept Rickey and Robinson from succumbing to the relentless animosity they faced.  Rickey was told by a reporter that signing Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers would cause all hell to break loose. He replied, saying that signing Robinson would cause all heaven to rejoice.   Rickey memorably said: “Jackie, we’ve got no army. There’s virtually nobody on our side. No owner, no umpires, very few newspapermen. And I’m afraid that many fans may be hostile. We’ll be in a tough position. We can win only if we can convince the world that I am doing this because you’re a great ballplayer and a fine gentleman.”  Robinson led the Dodgers to their only championship in 1955. Signing Robinson proved to be literally a game-changer for the game of baseball.

Martin Luther King Jr. said that Robinson was a legend and a symbol in his own time, that he challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration.  King commented: “Back in the days when integration wasn’t fashionable, Robinson understood the trauma and humiliation and the loneliness which comes with being a pilgrim walking the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom.  He  was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.”  Dr Alveda King, Martin Luther King’s niece, commented that the movie 42  brings an inherent message of courage, compassion and composure that prevailed in the lives of Jackie and Rae Robinson as well as Dodgers Manager Branch Rickey.   Robinson once said: “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me … All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”  This movie reminds us that we all are made in God’s image, we all are people for whom Christ died, and we all are of deep worth in God’s sight.

Robinson played in six World Series, was chosen for six consecutive All-Star Games, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949.  He stole home nineteen times, more than any other player since WW2.  In 1962, Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The number 42 is the only jersey number retired by all the Major League baseball teams.  Once a year in April, all the Major League players wear the number 42 in honour of Robinson’s breaking the colour barrier.

I thank God for Jackie Robinson’s sacrificial refusal to give in to bitterness and rage. May his example of forgiveness be a shining light to those of us reading this article.

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-an article previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

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