It is funny. I always know that I am going to write about Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey and heroism and integrity and just what fantastic examples of both of those ideals these men represented every year now since Jackie Robinson Day began.
I am sentimental (Oscar Wilde noted that a cynic is just a disappointed romantic, so I guess that is me sometimes), and I find Jackie Robinson Day, the retirement of his uniform, his incredible perseverance and success, and the entire impact his donning a Dodger uniform and taking the field 68 years ago had on all of us, nothing short of miraculous.
I do consider Robinson crossing the color line in baseball more significant than cases like Brown v. the Board of Education, and on a level with that of Rosa Parks not stepping to the back of the bus for no other reason than she was tired (the best reason of all). I can only imagine the courage and conviction that rested within these humans, as well as Mr. Rickey, who engineered the whole Robinson project. And, yes, those cynics among us can dismiss and say he was trying to make money for his team and be successful, but still, Rickey pushed forward because it was also the right thing to do. For, we all know all the other owners and virtually all the players, including many of the Dodgers, were against Robinson playing.
Jackie did not just play: he excelled in a way that is more than breathtaking. He was a Rookie of the Year, and his 1949 MVP season is really spectacular when you think in a deeper format (just 8 teams, all in one league) that he hit .342-16-124 with 122 runs scored, 37 steals, a .432 OBP along with 66 extra-base hits.
Though of course Google and Instagram and Twitter were hardly to be imagined when he accomplished this, Robinson faced no less scrutiny by a public that was far more conservative--and even restrictive simply because of age and custom and history and environment--and not as accepting as we have today. Not that our society and planet don't have a ways to go with respect to acceptance, but had Robinson "failed", who knows how much that might have set back the Civil Rights Movement and push towards equality that followed with breaking the baseball color line?
And, had Robinson merely been good--a .270 hitter with some speed and pop--that probably would have been enough. But, the truth is, he was a great player who simply excelled when the pressure was the greatest, and that is what makes a real star. (It does amaze me that Jackie could perform that well under a microscope when I have trouble hitting two golf balls cleanly in a row at the driving range.)
However, with the call-up of Kris Bryant yesterday, and all the buzz surrounding that event, I could only guess what the impact might be on Robinson were for some odd reason his moment in history be pushed forward those 68 seasons?
More important, it is silly to see that within baseball there is so much controversy surrounding Bryant, and whether he should have been advanced to open the season, or whether the injuries to Tommy La Stella and Mike Olt precipitated the move. Irrespective, there is certainly as much buzz as I can remember with a debut, but the significance of Bryant's debut means very little in the context of Robinson's debut.
Likewise, it is crazy that Bryant has already been labeled a star, that we have him in the Hall, making more money than Warren Buffett, and possibly controlling all land south of the Equator when he has just had his first couple of less than successful at-bats.
I do hope Bryant fares well, for sure. I hope all the young Cubs do well, as that makes a great story and adds to the lore and charm and history of the game, just as did Robinson in his own time. And, if I had to gamble, I would think Jorge Soler proves to have a better career than Bryant.
But, I also remember that Mike Trout guy having some trouble to start off, so I would caution us all to remember that contextually, and think about how much pressure Bryant just might feel getting started.
And then again, think of just how off-the-charts the performance of Jackie Robinson was given the circumstances.
It is all so amazing.