I was sent this book, 42 Today: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy. I’m a huge fan of baseball books, and I likely have a half dozen different Jackie Robinson biographies in my little basement office (almost as many as guitars). This one is different than the others.
The last line tells a lot:
Jackie Robinson deserves to be remembered and assessed as the courageous complex man he was. And not as a character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Much of what we read about Robinson portrays him as a hero, as perfect. This one shows a man who faced challenges, changed his opinions, was complex, and wasn’t always sure he was right.
The book isn’t about his baseball career. When it was talked about, it was to say that the ‘turn the other cheek’ legend wasn’t precisely true. That he turned the other cheek for his first couple of seasons in the majors, but, after that, and for basically all his life, he was a strong man who stood up for himself and wasn’t afraid to point out when he felt there was an injustice. Baseball writers (many of whom were against the idea of integrating the MLB) grew to dislike him for being so vocal in pointing out injustices on and off the field.
The book is a series of essays written by different people, looking at various parts of his life. His Methodist upbringing, civil rights work, the ‘dilemma’ of the black Republican, players that followed his legacy of speaking out, his support of women in sport were just a few of the subjects.
There was a lot of stuff I didn’t know. Among them:
- Robinson was for the Vietnam war, putting him at odds with Martin Luther King and most of the civil rights movement. He hated that Muhammad Ali dodged the draft.
- He had some strong and public disagreements with Malcome X.
- He campaigned for Richard Nixon in 1960 when most blacks and most in the civil rights movement were democrats.
- He had pretty strong opinions about women working, but his wife, a pretty interesting person herself, helped him come around to the idea.
- He was a strong believer in the idea that the best way to even up civil rights was to have African Americans own businesses and shop at those businesses. Keeping their money in their community. He worked with banks to make borrowing easier.
I really enjoyed the book. I’d come to think that there wasn’t much new that I hadn’t heard about Robinson, but I was wrong. If you are interested in learning Robinson’s life off the field, this is a good primer.