Extra Bases: Reflections on Jackie Robinson, Race, and Baseball History

By Jules Tygiel | Go to book overview

Introduction

The turning points of one's life often arrive unannounced and unexpected. The two pivotal moments of my professional career occurred seventeen years and three thousand miles apart. The first took place in Brooklyn in 1956, when I was seven years old. My father, fulfilling his paternal obligations, escorted me to Ebbets Field for a night game between the Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies. Duke Snider and Gil Hodges hit solo home runs, but the Dodgers nonetheless trailed 5—2 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. Then the miracle began. Jim Gilliam led off with a walk and Pee Wee Reese struck out. Snider strode to the plate and again launched a ball majestically over the right field fence onto Bedford Avenue to make the score 5—4. Randy Jackson, one of the lesser lights of the fabled Dodger teams of the 1950s, then drove a shot into the left field stands, tying the score. Hodges followed with his second home run of the night to send the Dodgers and their fans home as 6—5 victors. It is, in all probability, the only time in baseball history that a team had struck three consecutive homeruns in their final at bat to win a game. An impressionable seven-year-old boy had discovered the first great love in his life.

By 1973 I had matured into a twenty-four-year-old graduate student in history. Like the Dodgers, I now resided in Los Angeles, where I attended UCLA. Each day, I retreated to the same desk on the second floor of the University Research Library, where I studied for my upcoming doctoral examinations. On one occasion I found that someone had serendipitously left the 1947 volume of Time magazine on the table. My mind instantaneously reacted, as it often did to a date, with a baseball connection: “Nineteen forty-seven ... Jackie Robinson.” I thumbed through the lengthy tome, looking for a mention of Robinson's historic feat. He appeared, boldly and vibrantly on the cover of the September 22 issue, his ebony black face breaking through a sea of white baseballs. The story inside described his

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