Jackie Robinson certainly exposed the ignorance of many from a cultural viewpoint. Ironically, his societal impact exposed my own ignorance of how great of a player he was. Maybe not a big deal for you, but I write about baseball so learning exactly how elite he was, was a little disconcerting for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I knew he was very good. I knew he won an MVP, was an All-Star and is a Hall of Famer. But Willie Hernandez won an MVP, Aledmys Diaz was an All-Star, and Jackie’s off-field contributions were a considerable factor in his Cooperstown induction…right…?
I wrote about how wrong I was and how much better than “very good” Jackie was HERE, but I want to take it one step further today. Because where Jackie’s legacy took me was to the realization of how significantly better baseball would have been had there been no color barrier.
Once again, yes, I know, I know – I was fully aware of who Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Satchell Paige, and Buck Leonard were, and the crime it was they were excluded. But what happened shortly after Jackie’s arrival in Brooklyn had an immediate impact not only on the field but on the awakening of the extent to which we missed greatness on the field. The extent is what I and many others underestimated. If not then, then hopefully with the benefit of hindsight.
Consider this: In a very short period of time – within five years, actually – players from the Negro Leagues to join MLB included Jackie, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Monte Irvin, Larry Doby, Ernie Banks, Don Newcombe, and Roy Campanella. Hall of Famers, MVPs, a Cy Young, and All-Stars. In Aaron, one of the best 10 players to ever walk on a field, and in Mays perhaps the best ever to do so.
That’s just the elite players, which doesn’t factor in players who, although not future Hall of Famers, were very good players. See; Easter, Luke (among many others).
Two of the best ever, multiple Hall members, All-Stars and award winners – over just a five-year stretch.
Extrapolate that over the previous 50 years, and think about the greatness that wasn’t afforded the opportunity to simply compete on the field, presumably the arena meritocracy reigns.
I’d like to think that honoring Jackie Robinson shouldn’t be simply about Jackie Robinson, but maybe for some self-reflection as well. I know I’ve learned a lot and still have a long way to go. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a sociologist, psychologist, or self-help guru by any means – but I think we’d all be better off going that route than the knee jerk oversimplification, projection upon others route so prevalent in our modern world.
Did I miss something? Let me know.
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