Batting for Respect

 

Jackie Robinson: Champion for Equality
By Michael Teitelbaum
(Sterling, New York, 2010, $5.95, Paperback)

The first African-American to play Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson’s name is familiar even to people who don’t follow sports. During his nine-year career, Robinson accumulated honors, including Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player, and he led the Brooklyn Dodgers to the World Series six times. But integrating professional baseball was a trying and often lonely endeavor. On the field, Robinson endured taunts from fans and other athletes; off the field, he and his family received death threats. On the road, in the still segregated south, he couldn’t join his teammates at restaurants or hotels.

In Jackie Robinson: Champion for Equality, Michael Teitelbaum explores Robinson’s life in clear, accessible prose. Robinson, the son of sharecroppers, was a star athlete, earning letters in four sports in high school and college. Teitelbaum addresses Robinson’s first, painful encounters with prejudice, from the racial slurs he heard growing up in Pasedena, California to the segregation he experienced in the Army. (In 1944, Robinson was court-martialed for refusing to give up his seat on a military shuttle bus.) Teitelbaum chronicles Robinson’s ascent from the Negro Leagues to the Minors to the Brooklyn Dodgers. However, the first baseman’s achievements off the field were equally remarkable. Throughout his career, he volunteered for the Harlem YMCA, sharing his love of sports with underprivileged kids. After retirement, he entered the business world and threw himself into politics, campaigning for various candidates, the NAACP, and civil rights in general. Today, the Jackie Robinson Foundation helps poor and minority students attend college.

With period photos and images of newspaper clippings and other documents, Jackie Robinson is also an attractive book. Side panels educate readers about baseball and American history without disrupting Teitelbaum’s readable, often poignant narrative. The result is a splendid introduction to the Civil Rights movement, baseball history, and Robinson himself. “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” said Jackie Robinson. Teitelbaum’s book ensures that the first baseman will influence another generation of athletes and thinkers.

Dorothy A. Dahm

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