April 22, 2013. Saw 42 yesterday and was planning to write a review today. But since I spent a good part of the day down in the basement sloshing about in water up to my ankles, I didn’t get to it. Tomorrow then, I hope. Meantime, for some Jackie Robinson lore to bridge the gap…here’s a post from March of 2005. The great sportswriter Roger Kahn was reading from his then new book Beyond the Boys of Summer: The Very Best of Roger Kahn up at a now gone bookstore up in New Paltz and he had some good stories to tell, including these three about his friend, Number 42:
March 12, 2005. Still letting Roger Kahn do most of the work on the page this week. If you're keeping count Kahn gave me, so far, this post, this post, this post, and this post. I'm about done riding on his coat tails though. After today, I think I'll get one more free ride out of him and that I'll have to go back to doing my own writing. Unless I can find some one else as good as Kahn to steal from.
When Kahn was covering the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s, he became friends with Jackie Robinson. Robinson was a prickly character. He famously kept his temper on the field in the face of terrible taunts, insults, and out and out threatening behavior on the part of fans, opposing players, and even some sportswriters who openly rooted for him to fail and minimized his achievements when they wrote about him.
Kahn was one of the few writers Robison liked and trusted.
The other night Kahn told three stories about Robinson. Couple illustrate how Robinson could be prickly. One shows what he had to be prickly about.
One time Robinson was blowing off steam in the locker room, spouting about something that bothered him and arguing with Don Newcombe, Brooklyn's star pitcher and one of the first black players the Dodgers brought up after Robinson. Newcombe, who had a less volatile temperamnet than Robinson, lost his patience with him and shouted across the locker room, "Robinson you're not just wrong! You're loud wrong!"
Some writers, like I said, rooted against Robinson and disrespected him in their stories and columns. But others liked him and wanted him to succeed, either because they wanted the integration of baseball to succeed or because they wanted the Dodgers to win or just because they recognized that Robinson was a great player and they loved the game and when you love the game you love to see it played well. Still, Robinson's relationship with sportswriters even with ones who were on his side could be tense.
One day Kahn and Robinson were talking about this. Robinson wished things were different. Kahn suggested that it might help if Robinson showed some appreciation for the favorable stories written about him. "You could maybe thank some people once in a while," Kahn said.
Robinson fumed at that.
"Thank them? For what? I'm the one stole home! They wouldn't have anything to write about, I didn't do that!"
Now, here's the story those stories set up.
One time the Dodgers were playing the Cardinals in St Louis, which was, Kahn said, the heart of the old Confederacy as far as the integration of baseball was concerned.
The Cardinals are notorious because Enos "Country" Slaughter tried to lead the team in a boycott against the Dodgers in 1947, the year Robinson started with Brooklyn. It's one of the dark spots on Stan Musial's reputation that he didn't stand up to Slaughter and may even have been planning to go along with the boycott, although he later apologized to Robison for the episode and for the Cardinals' treatment of Robinson. St Louis was always one of the toughest places for Robinson, for his whole career.
So there they were in St Louis, in the mid 1950s, Robinson a long-established star at this point, clearly at the height of a Hall of Fame career, and in the middle of the game the Cardinals' manager, Eddie Stanky, stands on the lip of the dugout, dangling a pair of shoes by the laces, and calls out to Robinson who's out on the field, "Hey, boy, gimme a shine?"
Robinson, of course, kept his head and didn't respond. But after the game when he got back to his hotel, the colored hotel he and the other black Dodgers had to stay at when they traveled to St Louis, he called Kahn at his hotel, a white hotel, and asked him what he thought about what Stanky had done and said.
Kahn, who'd been up in the press box, hadn't seen or heard the incident. Robinson told him.
Robinson said, "I been in the majors seven years now. It's time for this shit to stop!"
Kahn said, "You want me to write it?"
Robinson, who could be loud right as well as loud wrong, yelled, "Course I want you to write it! Why the fuck you think I called you up?"
So Kahn wrote it.
And filed it.
And his editor killed it.
The editor told Kahn, "We cover sports here, not race relations."
Back to the future: As I said, I hope to post the review tomorrow. Without giving too much away about the movie, though, Eddie Stanky was with the Dodgers in ‘47 and it’s interesting to note the role he plays in the movie’s plot, in light of Kahn’s story.