By Granville Wyche Burgess.

Today is the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Jack Roosevelt Robinson—“Jackie” to millions of baseball fans and millions of others who couldn’t care less about baseball but couldn’t care more about civil rights and equality for all people.

It’s important to have heroes. Ironically, for this white boy growing up in segregated Greenville, SC, it was important to have a Negro hero, as African-Americans were called in those days—at least in polite society. It affirmed in me a basic value handed down by my parents: all people should be treated with dignity and respect, and those less fortunate than yourself should be treated with even more dignity and respect. To sing the praises of a black man among my friends just plain ol’ made me feel good. Take that, all you who disparage black people with the N word: this “Negro” is a great as any man playing the game today!

And great he was. If you can believe it, baseball was his fourth best sport at UCLA, after football, basketball, and the long-jump, for which he would have been an Olympian if the war hadn’t interfered. There are many ways to measure Jackie’s athletic greatness, but my favorite is how often he tried to steal home. How can anyone run faster than a pitch going 80-plus miles-an-hour from 60 feet, 6 inches away?! But Jackie did, and he was safe more times than he was out. For me, that one act epitomizes all the courage and daring it took to be the first African-American to break baseball’s color barrier.

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During Jackie’s ten-year baseball career, the Dodgers played the Yankees in six World Series, and won only one. Those games fostered in me two life-long habits: pulling for the underdog and hating the Yankees. It is this inclination to take the side of those not favored to win that is part of my attraction to the Shoeless Joe Jackson story. Taking up the cause of injustice is another part. Like Jackie Robinson, Shoeless Joe is another “first”: the first player to receive a life-long ban from the Baseball Hall of Fame. I don’t think it’s fair.

So here’s to Jackie Robinson, one of the greatest baseball players of all time. And here’s to Shoeless Joe Jackson, who never got the chance to prove that he could have been another one.


Granville Wyche Burgess is an Emmy-nominated playwright and novelist. He is the author of The Last At-Bat of Shoeless Joe, a novel about Shoeless Joe Jackson, to be published by Chickadee Prince in May, and which is available for pre-order on Kindle, and in paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local bookstore.

Image: JaneB13/Pixabay