Wednesday, April 4, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #5 Jackie Robinson

This winter I finally got around to reading Roger Kahn's highy-acclaimed book: The Boys of Summer. It has been sitting on my shelf for years. I can't say I have ever enjoyed a book, let alone a baseball book more. The quality of Kahn's prose and the compelling stories from his Brooklyn Dodgers is unmatched.

Of course, the central character in the book ends up being Jackie Robinson. Although I am way too young to have ever enjoyed Jackie play baseball. However, I recognize his influence on the game and on this country. What he went through is hard to imagine, let alone describe. Jackie Robinson was a mountain of a man. His dominant characteristic, as an athlete and as a man, was his competitive flame. Outspoken, controversial, combative, he never deviated from his opinions or his goals. He was also a human being that made a difference.

In June of 1971, Jackie's oldest son Jack Roosevelt Robinson Jr. died in a car accident. At his funeral, Jackie's youngest son (David) wrote and read this:

He climbed high on the cliffs above the sea, and stripped bare his shoulders and raised his arms to the water, crying, 'I am a man. Give me my freedom so that I might dance naked in the moonlight and laugh with the stars and roll in the grass and drink in the warmth of the sun. Give me my freedom so I might fly.' But the armies of the seas continued to war with the wind and the wind raced the giants of stones and mocked his cries, and the man fell to his knees and wept.

He rose, and journeyed down the mountain to the valley and came upon the village. When the people saw him, they scored him for his naked shoulders and wild eyes and again he cried, 'I am a man. I seek the means of freedom.'

The people laughed, saying 'We see no chains on your arms. Go. You are free.' And they called him mad and drove him from their village... The man walked on, eyes red as a gladiator's sword, until he came to stream where he saw an image, face sunken in hunger, skin drawn tight around the body.

He stood fixed on the water's edge and began to weep, not from sorrow but from joy, for he saw beauty in the water. He removed his clothing and stood naked before the world and rose to his full height and smiled and moved to meet the figure in the water and the stream made love to his body and the majesty of his voice was heard about the roar of the sea and howl of the wind, and he was free.

When I was on my 8th grade basketball team I was assigned uniform #42. That night, I went home and did some research of the famous athletes that wore those same digits. That is how I first came to know and understand about Jackie Robinson. To this day, I have never worn another uniform with more pride than my first #42.


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