My head's been in a time warp for more than a week now.
It's no trivial time warp. It's a baseball time warp. And
it has to do with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
I know, I know. Some of you out there are snickering
because I don't even know the Dodgers are in Los Angeles, not Brooklyn.
But my time warp goes back 60 years to when they were the
Brooklyn Dodgers, when the idea of their ever becoming the L.A.
Dodgers was as wild as the idea that the Nebraska Cornhuskers would
some day become the Hollywood Cornhuskers.
Back then the Dodgers were called "Dem Bums" even by their
most loyal fans, and they played in Ebbets Field and they broke my
heart by blowing the big games.
I was the only kid in my grade school classI may have
been the only kid in Southwest Kansaswho was a Dodgers fan. During
the season I would spend at least 15 minutes every morning reading
about the Dodgersabout Dixie Walker ("The People's Cherce") and Pee
Wee Reese and Pistol Pete Reiser and Eddie (Stinky) Stanky and their
manager, Leo the Lip Durocher.
They won the National League Pennant in 1941. Of course
the Yankees beat them in the World Series, four games to one. But I
was about to be hooked on the Dodgers by theneven when they lost the
pennant to the St. Louis Cardinals with sickening regularity in '42,
'43, '44, '46, breaking my heart each time.
But thenhallelujah!it was 1947.
And if you read the April 12 Journal-Star sports section
earlier this month, you know what happened in 1947: The Dodgers
(still in Brooklyn where God intended them to be) signed up a guy
named Jackie Robinson.
Robinson was a black guy. There had never been a black guy
in the major leagues before. Only white guys.
He took a lot of crap from the fans of the other teams.
And he drove the other teams' catchers and pitchers crazy when he'd
get on base and do his little dance. He'd draw balks from the pitcher
and steal bases on the catcher.
And he was named the 1947 Rookie of the Year. Two years
later he had a batting average of .341, the best in the National
League. And he was the N.L. Most Valuable Player.
But his greatest victory was against racism.
In the summer of 1949, I was 15 and a friend of mine and I
talked my 19-year-old brother-in-law into driving us to St. Louisthe
closest major league city then, about 650 miles east of where we were
trying to grow up.
The attraction was that the Dodgers were playing the
Cardinals in Sportsman's Park.
We stayed at the Y and got to the ballpark early enough to
get seats behind third base. I forget who won, so it was probably the
The Truth, Mainly
What I do remember is that every time Robinson had a ball
hit in his direction, or got up to bat, the Cardinal fanswhite
guysbehind us would holler "Black Jack! Black Jack! Black Jack!"
It was not a friendly yell.
Two or three times, Robinson got walked and he danced
around first base, thereby worrying hell out of the white pitcher and
the white catcher, then finally stealing second. That usually shut
down the hecklers for a while.
And here's what we did after the game was over: we went
down under the stands and stood outside the visitors' locker room,
waiting for Robinson to come out.
When he did come out, he was with Roy Campanella, who came
up a year or two after Robinson.
"Mr. Robinson," I think I said, "could we get your autograph?"
There were ten or twelve other people lined up to get his autograph"
"Come on, Jack," I remember Campanella saying. "We'll be late."
"Just a minute," I think Robinson said, and then he spent
maybe five minutes signing his autograph.
Everyone asking for his autograph was white.
Campanella kept saying, "C'mon, Jack. We gotta go."
And all the way back to Kansas, we talked about how we
couldn't get over how nice Jack was.
The Sunday after we got back, I, of course, went to church.
After the sermon, I hung around waiting for my parents to drive me
home. I listened to the adults talking. One of them said that we
ought to be thinking about what we should do if a Negro (except he
didn't say "Negro") would ever want to attend our church.
I'll never forget what one of the major supporters of our
church said: "The day a Negro [except he didn't say 'Negro'] walks
into this church is the day I'm going to walk out."
And that's when I had an epiphany: Religion and baseball morality
aren't always the same.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail