Today is the 66th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Below, is a picture I snapped last summer. It’s a statue of Robinson and Pee Wee Reese that sits in Coney Island, Brooklyn, next to the ballpark of the Cyclones (the short season A-ball affiliate of the Mets).
The statue was derived from a famous moment that was said to have occurred on May 13th, 1947 in Cincinnati. Legend has it that fans were hurling racial epithets at Robinson from the stands. After he saw his teammate taking this abuse, Pee Wee Reese walked over and put his arm around him – shocking those in attendance and forming a bond with Robinson. The moment has been a matter of debate. Some have argued that it happened in 1947, but most believe it happened in 1948. One of the eyewitnesses was Dodgers pitcher Rex Barney, who gave the following account according to ESPN:
Barney recalled that he saw the event occur while he was warming up to pitch in the first. In 1947, Barney was working out of the bullpen and did not come into the game in Cincinnati until the seventh inning. (He did become a starting pitcher soon after in 1947 and was a full-time starter in 1948.)
It’s noted by ESPN that Barney was the starting pitcher for the Dodgers in Boston on August 14th, 1948. It’s that date and place that Jackie Robinson himself recalled the moment happening.
Whether the moment depicted in the statue happened in 1947 or 1948 is of little consequence. What’s important, is the courage that Robinson displayed, the support Reese provided, and the fact that the two remained friends for the rest of their lives.
Today is a day to remember Jackie Robinson and all that he did for the Civil Rights movement. Although his breakthrough was on the field of play, what he accomplished was much bigger than the game.