Michael Long, ed. Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life After Baseball. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2013. 248 pp. Cloth, $29.95.
In April 1959, Jackie Robinson was retired from baseball and working as an executive at Chock full o'Nuts, a chain of coffee shops in New York City. He was living a comfortable life with his wife, Rachel, and their three children. Robinson had no reason to return to public life. As a successful black man, however, he had "a duty to speak up where and when I can," he wrote in a column for the New York Post (p. xxiv).
This began Robinson's career as a newspaper columnist, first for the New York Post and then for the Amsterdam News, a black weekly in New York City. While much has been written and said about Robinson's career as a ballplayer, his career as a columnist has received little attention. This is no longer the case. Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life After Baseball includes dozens of Robinson's columns, producing a self-portrait of the Hall of Fame ballplayer that is as revealing as anything found in the biographies and autobiographies about him.
The columns in Beyond Home Plate, edited by Michael Long, are impressive in their honesty and their quality but also in the breadth of their subject matter. Whether as a ballplayer or a columnist, Robinson is motivated by his uncompromising belief in racial equality, whether he's marching with Martin Luther King Jr., praising sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, or calling for the Professional Golfers' Association to admit black golfers, including Charlie Sifford. The tone of his writing is achingly poignant when he writes about the murder of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and the burning of a black church in Albany, Georgia. Robinson begins this column, "Have you ever attended the funeral of a church?" Robinson has been the subject of numerous books, including Jules Tygiel's Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy (1983), Arnold Rampersad's biography, Jackie Robinson (1997), and Jonathan Eig's story about Robinson's rookie year with the Dodgers, Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season (2007). The aforementioned books are far more complex and human than the caricature created in too many Robinson biographies and even autobiographies, such as Jackie Robinson: My Own Story (1948), which was written with Hall of Fame sportswriter Wendell Smith. Smith ghostwrote Robinson's columns for the Pittsburgh Courier, the influential black weekly that campaigned hard for racial equality in the 193os and 1940s. Other Robinson autobiographies include Wait Till Next Year (1960), written with columnist Carl Rowan, and I Never Had it Made (1972), which was written with Alfred Duckett and published after the ballplayer's death.
Robinson was assisted in his New York Post columns by playwright William Branch and in his Amsterdam News columns by Alfred Duckett. While Robinson may have had help in his columns, Long emphasizes, "he made sure the columns clearly and indisputably reflected his own voice and beliefs" (xxx). …