Cover image for Opening day : the story of Jackie Robinson's first season
Opening day : the story of Jackie Robinson's first season
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, c2007.
Physical Description:
x, 323 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 25 cm.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson -- "Some good colored players" -- The uprising -- Opening day -- Up in Harlem -- Praying for base hits -- Cardinal sins -- The great road trip -- Tearing up the pea patch -- Pee-wee's embrace -- The glorious crusade -- A smile of almost painful joy -- Up and down MacDonough Street -- A real gone guy -- A good thing for everyone -- The poison pen -- The unbeatable yanks -- Dixie Walker's dilemma -- The footsteps of enos 'country' slaughter -- Shadow dancing -- "We aren't afraid" -- "And the world series is over!"
Personal Subject:


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Book 921 ROBINSON 1 1
Book 921 ROBINSON 1 1
Book 921 ROBINSON 1 2

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This detailed, authoritative account of one of the most important seasons in baseball history chronicles the day when, in 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and played first base for the Dodgers. Opening Day is being published on that 60th anniversary of the game.

Reviews 5

Booklist Review

The author of the acclaimed Luckiest Man (2005) a biography of Lou Gehrig, turns here to another great American sportsman, Jackie Robinson. So elegant in its logic is Eig's angle--chronicling Robinson's first major-league season (1947) with the Brooklyn Dodgers--it's a wonder no one thought of it before. From Robinson's preseason call-up by Brooklyn's legendary GM, Branch Rickey, to the 1947 World Series, in which the Dodgers took the Yankees to a seventh game (Brooklyn lost), Eig details the dynamics of Robinson's hard-earned acceptance by teammates, the well-chronicled abuse Robinson took from opposing fans and players, the response of local and out-of-town press, and the impact the season had on Robinson's family and on African Americans. Eig also shows what a flat-out great player Robinson was that season. If Eig's workmanlike writing style doesn't necessarily pull the reader along, his account of the Dodgers' dramatic 1947 pennant race will. Even Dodger haters--and they are legion--will cheer on the Bums in this fine account. --Alan Moores Copyright 2007 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

SPORTS anniversaries pile up with insidious regularity. Whereas a D-Day comes around only once a war, the Super Bowl adds another Roman numeral every January (or February), and college basketball gives us the Final Four like clockwork every March (or April). This all but guarantees that in 5- or 10-year increments, we will look back in sepia tones with weepy eyes at various athletic accomplishments, replaying their "firsts" and measuring their importance. Only a few justify such commemoration. Some live on from sheer spontaneous drama, as with Bobby Thomson's 1951 home run. Some gather weight over time, as with the victory of Texas Western's black starting five against an all-white Kentucky team in the 1966 N.C.A.A. basketball finals. And a handful are heavy with significance both at the moment and long beyond, as with Jackie Robinson's entry into major-league baseball as its first modern-day African-American player, 60 years ago this season - an operatic tale cannily orchestrated by Branch Rickey, the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and brilliantly performed by Robinson. No American sports story has been so often told, and no athlete so rightly deemed a hero. From the long shelf of books, a number by Robinson himself and his family, we know indisputably that he bore epithets and real threats with stoicism and dignity while executing on the field with consummate skill and characteristic abandon. Rickey, a wily lawyer, gave Robinson the best chance he could to succeed by assigning him to the Dodgers' minor-league team in the outpost of Montreal for a year as a test run and by stage-managing the release of information - like what position he would play - to reduce the pressure on him (and on the player whose job he might take). On Robinson's end, had he produced even a little less spectacularly than he did, batting .297 and scoring 125 runs in leading the Dodgers to the World Series, or exploded in anger even once, the so-called great experiment would have stalled. Yes, integration of baseball was inevitable, but one could not imagine a smoother, more elegant bridge to it than the Brooklyn one constructed by Rickey and Robinson. In 1997, for the 50th anniversary of Robinson's dash through the color barrier, Arnold Rampersad (whose biography of Ralph Ellison was recently published) came out with the definitive account of Robinson's life, leaving others to atomize the player's career further. Chris Lamb's "Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training," for example, was published a few years ago. And now we have "Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season," by Jonathan Eig, who crosses boroughs on a subway series of his own after his well-received biography of the Yankees' Lou Gehrig ("Luckiest Man") from two years ago. History has a way of playing cruel jokes, and this anniversary comes at a time when persuading black athletes to choose baseball (over basketball and football) has proved almost as much of a challenge as allowing them in was more than half a century ago. As of 2005, the number of African-American players in the major leagues had dipped to 8.5 percent, the lowest in 26 years, according to a study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. In 1985, Vince Coleman of the St. Louis Cardinals answered a Robinson-related query with: "I don't know nothin' about him. Why are you asking me about Jackie Robinson?" Now, according to C. C. Sabathia, the only African-American player on the Cleveland Indians' roster at the end of last year, the question has regressed to kids in his California hometown asking him, "What's baseball?" In "Opening Day," I learned that the 1947 Dodgers, therefore, after they acquired Dan Bankhead in August to join Robinson, had twice the number of African-American players as the Indians of 2006. Safe: Robinson stole home in the 1955 World Series against the Yankees That current dearth would seem reason enough to celebrate the publication of another work about Robinson, especially one that compresses the most dramatic year of his career into a tidy package that doesn't pretend to be comprehensive and so promises to be more accessible than a monument like Rampersad's book or Jules Tygiel's "Baseball's Great Experiment." Eig's brisk chronicle is full of local color and period details that recreate a bygone age of athletes who scraped by like other working stiffs, holding down off-season jobs and traversing the city on the subway rather than in tintedwindow Escalades. Train travel was still de rigueur for away games; the Brooklyn manager, Burt Shotton, wore street clothes with a bow tie (thus restricting him to the bench, since only those in uniform were allowed on the field); TV viewers saw the World Series on "gray screens no bigger than a lunchbox"; and many players were from the segregated South, including two Dodgers nicknamed Dixie. Robinson and his wife, Rachel, with a new son, Jack Jr., rented a room from a single woman in a Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone, where they shared her bathroom. Hardly the TriBeCa penthouse that the former Mets catcher Mike Piazza recently showed off in Elle Decor magazine. Against this backdrop, Eig recounts the flash points that have grown into myths and largely reduces them from grand opera to folk song, a story of endurance and forbearance rather than sturm und drang. Dixie Walker, a popular Alabamian who supposedly led an internal team revolt, is portrayed as mostly concerned about how playing with Robinson might affect his hardware business back home. A famous gesture of support from Pee Wee Reese, the Kentucky-born shortstop who reputedly threw his arm around Robinson on the field to quiet a hostile crowd, is presented as largely apocryphal, and an alleged strike by the Cardinals as very likely a media exaggeration. Eig's deflation of the extremes of both opposition and support seems more complexly true and does justice to the man rather than the legend. Restraint and circumspection - by Rickey, by the black fans who thronged both Ebbets Field and other parks, by most of the press, and, of course, by Robinson - marked the integration of baseball more than any confrontation did. Rickey consulted with the sociologist Dan Dodson before hatching his plan, and the blueprint could have been lifted directly from Gunnar Myrdal's suggestions for integrating the workplace from his 1944 classic, "An American Dilemma": "If Negro workers are introduced a few at a time, if they are carefully picked, if the leaders of the white workers are taken into confidence and if the reasons for the action are explained, then the trouble can be minimized, and the new policy may eventually become successful." This approach panned out, but took its toll on Robinson, a lonely figure celebrated by fans but not embraced by his teammates, even sympathetic ones. And during that year, Robinson never had to travel farther south than Cincinnati or St. Louis to test restraint as a tactic. Certainly, over the next two decades, in Little Rock, Birmingham and other places where the battlegrounds weren't baseball diamonds, stronger action would be required. Eig's analysis and prose are hit-and-miss. His structural gambit of interviewing contemporary figures and relating their memories of Robinson works with the Bronx-raised former Secretary of State Colin Powell - "We said, 'Oh, Lord, don't let him strike out.' The greatest fear was that he wouldn't do well, and that would be a mark against all of us" - but more often interrupts the flow of events with cloying sentimentality, as when he says of an aspiring teenage journalist, "Only then did he begin to realize that life in America was different for black people." At several points where the writing induces a grimace ("As summer rounded second and headed for third..."), I began to suspect that the book, despite an impressive number of interviews and deep research, had been rushed for the anniversary release. Still, with the Bums pushing the Yankees to seven games in the World Series and Robinson being named rookie of the year, it's a difficult story to tell badly, and it will be worth telling again in another 10 years - if that generation is not still asking, "What's baseball?" Had Robinson performed a little less spectacularly, or exploded in anger even once, the great experiment would have stalled. Jay Jennings is a frequent contributor to the Book Review.

Choice Review

Robinson's 1947 rookie season in Major League Baseball was not his first season in baseball--he had played in the minors and the Negro League--but in 1947 Robinson confronted Major League Baseball's color line and, along with it, segregation in the US. Others, e.g., Arnold Rampersad (Jackie Robinson, 1997) and Jules Tygiel (Baseball's Great Experiment, CH, Dec'83), have written elegantly about Robinson, but Eig's intent in looking only at 1947 is to present the story of how Robinson, who carried the hopes and dreams of millions of black Americans, transformed--and redeemed--the US. Eig tells of Robinson's teammates, who first ignored him but came to respect and protect him, and of how bigots (Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Enos Slaughter) tried to end "the great experiment." And he beautifully captures Robinson's pain, fears, loneliness, and ultimate triumph as he dragged the country forward, forcing it to confront its racism and hypocrisy. Eig reveals that one cannot understand the Civil Rights Movement without understanding Robinson's 1947 season. Eig quotes Martin Luther King Jr., who called Robinson "a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides." Summing Up: Essential. All readers, all levels. C. J. Lamb College of Charleston

Kirkus Review

An entertaining and equitable examination of Jackie Robinson's groundbreaking rookie season. In 1947, major-league baseball was still the exclusive province of white players. Change was in the wind, however, and the progressive president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey, was at the forefront for moral, practical and economic reasons. Rickey signed Robinson, making him the first black player in the majors. Eig (Luckiest Man, 2005) chronicles Robinson's journey from college-football star to baseball legend, with plenty of digressions to flesh out key participants (and a few too many tangential discourses on less important individuals). While the Negro leagues abounded with talented players, white Americans doubted their ability to handle the pressure of big-league ball. Understanding that overcoming that perception would require players to have more than mere talent, Rickey shrewdly chose a man who wasn't necessarily the most skilled black player available, Eig contends, but had the greatest will to win. Robinson's competitive streak outstripped even his considerable athletic gifts, and though he had a sullen, almost combative manner at times, his hide was thick enough to deal with blatant racism from both teammates and opponents, as well as the isolation that came with being forced to eat at different restaurants and stay in different hotels. The author combs through sportswriters' accounts of Robinson's landmark summer, supplementing his narrative with interviews with fellow players, spectators and cultural observers. Baseball fans will delight in a detailed account of the '47 Dodgers-Yankees World Series and revel in the portraits of some of baseball's more interesting characters, even if they don't always have much of a connection to Robinson. Those looking for a cogent analysis of Robinson's impact on the civil-rights movement and the tribulations faced by a man thrust into the role of trailblazer will be justly rewarded, but they'll have to sit through nine innings to get to it. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Boasting a 125,000-copy first printing, this book will be published on the 60th anniversary of Robinson's breaking the color barrier with his first ML at bat. Veterans of the subject are not likely to find much new here, but that does not diminish the value of Eig's (Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig) accomplished narrative or the moving story of a man who, in breathing integrity into baseball, probably sacrificed his own chances for a long life. Necessary for all general baseball collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/06.] (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



PROLOGUE April 10, 1947 The telephone rang like an alarm, waking Jackie Robinson from deep sleep. "Hello," he mumbled. It was early morning in Manhattan. Robinson was alone in room 1169 of the McAlpin Hotel, across the street from Macy's. He had been on edge all week, his stomach in knots. As he listened to the voice on the other end of the phone, he was poised to embark on a journey -- one that would test his courage, shake the game of baseball to its roots, and forever change the face of the nation. Throughout history, heroic quests have often been launched on grand orders. "The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River . . . ," wrote Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis. "The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!" General Dwight David Eisenhower exhorted his troops before the D-Day invasion. But the commanding words that sent Robinson on his way this cool, gray morning were uttered by a humble secretary. Come to Brooklyn, she said. He showered and shaved and hurried out of the hotel. He was on his way to meet Branch Rickey, president and part owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and to learn whether Rickey was ready to end the segregation of the races in big-league baseball. In 1947, some southern states still denied the vote to black Americans. Black children were not entitled to attend the same schools as white children. Lynch mobs executed their own bloodthirsty style of justice while local law enforcement officials looked the other way. "I'm sorry, but they done got him," one sheriff in North Carolina announced that year after a gang of white men made off with one of his prisoners. Black Americans were excluded not only from certain schools but also from parks, beaches, playgrounds, department stores, night clubs, swimming pools, roller-skating rinks, theaters, rest rooms, barber shops, railroad cars, bus seats, military units, libraries, factory floors, and hospitals. In the North, WHITES ONLY signs were far less evident than in the South, but the veiled message was often the same. Black men on business in Chicago, Detroit, or Cleveland usually stayed in black-owned hotels, rode in black-owned taxis, and dined in black-owned restaurants. If a white man became acquainted with a black man, odds were good that the acquaintance stemmed from some service the black man performed for the white man -- shining his shoes, for example, or mowing his lawn, or mixing his cocktails. Segregation suffused the nation's culture, and yet profound changes were rippling across the country. Black workers moved from South to North in great waves, reshaping urban spaces and lending new muscle to organized labor. Black soldiers coming home from the war declared they would no longer tolerate second-class citizenship. Federal judges commanded southern states to stop obstructing the black vote. President Truman signed an order to end segregation in the military. And in major-league baseball, where there were sixteen teams and every player on every one of those teams was white, a single black man was presented an opportunity to change the equation: to make it one black man and 399 white. The test case represented by Jackie Robinson was one of towering importance to the country. Here was a chance for one person to prove the bigots and white supremacists wrong, and to say to the nation's fourteen million black Americans that the time had come for them to compete as equals. But it would happen only if a long list of "ifs" worked out just so: if the Brooklyn Dodgers gave Robinson the opportunity to play; if he played well; if he won the acceptance of teammates and fans; if no race riots erupted; if no one put a bullet through his head. The "ifs" alone were enough to agitate a man's stomach. Then came the matter of Robinson himself. He perceived racism in every glare, every murmur, every called third strike. He was not the most talented black ballplayer in the country. He had a weak throwing arm and a creaky ankle. He had only one year of experience in the minor leagues, and, at twenty-eight, he was a little bit old for a first-year player. But he loved a fight. His greatest assets were tenacity and a knack for getting under an opponent's skin. He would slash a line drive to left field, run pigeon-toed down the line, take a big turn at first base, slam on the brakes, and skitter back to the bag. Then, as the pitcher prepared to go to work on the next batter, Robinson would take his lead from first base, bouncing on tiptoes like a dropped rubber ball, bouncing, bouncing, bouncing, taunting the pitcher, and daring everyone in the park to guess when he would take off running again. While other men made it a point to avoid danger on the base paths, Robinson put himself in harm's way every chance he got. His speed and guile broke down the game's natural order and left opponents cursing and hurling their gloves. When chaos erupted, that's when he knew he was at his best. On that April 10 morning, as he rode the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn, Robinson understood exactly what he was getting into. One prominent black journalist had written that the ballplayer had more power than Congress to help break the chains that bound the descendants of slavery to lives lived in inequity and despair. Before he'd even swung a bat in the big leagues, Robinson was being compared to Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver, and Joe Louis, with some writers concluding that this man would do more for his people than any of the others. The time had come, they said, for black Americans to stake their claim to the justice and equal rights they so richly deserved, and now a baseball player had arrived to show them the way. Robinson absorbed the newspaper articles. He felt the weight on his shoulders and decided there was nothing to do but carry it as fast and as far as he could. A cold wind met him as he climbed out of the subway onto the busy streets of Brooklyn. He walked to 215 Montague Street. Waiting for him there was Branch Rickey, a potato-shaped man in a wrinkled suit. The office was dark and cluttered. Rickey got straight to business, offering Robinson a standard contract for five-thousand dollars, the league's minimum annual salary. "Simple, wasn't it?" Robinson recalled later. "It could have happened to you. The telephone rings. You answer it . . . and you're in the Big Leagues. . . . Just like a fairy tale. . . . I went to bed one night wearing pajamas and woke up wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers' uniform." He knew it was no fairy tale, of course. He knew that a happy ending was far from assured. Most big-leaguers in 1947 had never been on the same field as a black man, had never shared a locker room, a shower, a taxi, a train car, or a dining-room table with one. Big-league culture was so thoroughly dominated by white southerners that even rough Italian kids from northern cities experienced shock and isolation upon arrival. There was no telling how Robinson would be received. He was not yet a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and already half a dozen or more of his prospective teammates promised they would quit or demand a trade before they would play with him. Elsewhere, players spoke of a league-wide strike. They were willing to destroy the game they loved rather than see it stained by integration. Others said it would be simpler to take Robinson out with a well-aimed fastball to the head, or with a set of metal cleats driven through his Achilles tendon on a close play at first base -- something that would look like an accident. Rickey made only one demand of Robinson. He asked the ballplayer to promise that he would never respond to the racist attacks that would surely come his way. When Rickey quoted a passage from Giovanni Papini's Life of Christ -- "But whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" -- Robinson sought clarification. Did Rickey want a player who didn't have the guts to fight back? No, the boss answered, "I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back." Rickey turned and walked away while Robinson thought about it for a moment. Though the request would require Robinson to subdue his most basic instincts, and though he had no idea, honestly, whether he could compete without an outlet for his seething sense of indignation, he said he would try. With that, the season's storyline was set. Robinson became baseball's biggest attraction in 1947. According to one survey, he was the second most famous man in America, trailing only Bing Crosby. Americans yearned for a sense of normalcy in the aftermath of the war, yet everything around them was in flux. Robinson, a human whirlwind, captured the spirit of the time better than anyone. When the Dodgers went on the road, thousands of black men and women traveled great distances to get a glimpse of him, as if to see for themselves that he was real, to share his dignity and glory, to watch this proud, defiant man, the grandson of slaves, stake a claim on their behalf to what Langston Hughes called "the dream deferred." Railroad companies scheduled special runs. Black parents named their children, boys and girls, after him. White kids from small towns in the Midwest sat surrounded by black men and women at the ballpark and wondered why their parents seemed anxious. Jewish families in Brooklyn gathered around their dining-room tables for Passover Seders and discussed what Moses had in common with a fleet-footed, right-hand-hitting infielder with the number 42 on his back. White business owners integrated their factory floors and wrote to Robinson to thank him for opening their eyes. Young ballplayers of every color imitated his style, wiping their hands on their trousers between pitches, swinging with arms outstretched, and running helter-skelter around makeshift bases. Jackie Robinson showed that talent mattered more than skin color, supplying a blueprint for the integration of a nation. He led the Dodgers to the greatest season the team's fans had yet seen, to a World Series showdown with the New York Yankees, the outcome in doubt until the final inning of the seventh and final game. But it was something else, something more personal, that captured the American imagination that summer. It was the story of a man filled with fear and fury. It was Jackie Robinson, all alone, taking his lead from the base, bouncing, bouncing, bouncing . . . and a nation waiting to see what he would do next. Copyright (c) 2007 by Jonathan Eig Excerpted from Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season by Jonathan Eig All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

1 Jack Roosevelt Robinson
2 ""Some Good Colored Players""
3 The Uprising
4 Opening Day
5 Up in Harlem
6 Praying for Base Hits
7 Cardinal Sins
8 The Great Road Trip
9 Tearing Up the Pea Patch
10 Pee Wee's Embrace
11 The Glorious Crusade
12 ""A Smile of Almost Painful Joy""
13 Up and Down MacDonough Street
14 A Real Gone Guy
15 A Good Thing for Everybody
16 The Poison Pen
17 The Unbeatable Yanks
18 Dixie Walker's Dilemma
19 The Footsteps of Enos ""Country"" Slaughter
20 Shadow Dancing
21 ""We Aren't Afraid""
22 ""And t