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Professional athletes are probably no more ignorant of history than the rest of us, but there was something especially disturbing about the number of modern players who, in 1997, during the fiftieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the baseball color line, revealed that they didn't know who he was. Pollsters probably didn't ask, but it's likely even fewer would have known who Branch Rickey was. That black players in particular, whose careers follow the path that these men blazed, do not comprehend and honor the debt is most troubling of all. Anyone wishing to remedy their own lack of knowledge, and even those who think they already know the whole story, will find Harvey Frommer's Rickey and Robinson an invaluable resource and a truly moving read.

Mr. Frommer had the novel idea of structuring the book as parallel biographies of the two men, their stories overlapping and lives knitting together for that remarkable period of years when they, almost by themselves, integrated major league baseball. Jackie Robinson's is the better known tale, from UCLA to the Army to the Negro Leagues to the Dodgers' minor leagues and then to Brooklyn, with a significant career in business and politics afterwards. And most baseball fans will be familiar with Branch Rickey's reputation as an innovator, his most lasting contributions, besides integration, to the game including the batting helmet and the organized minor league farm system. Met fans too will recall Ralph Kiner's stories about how tight-fisted and patronizing (in both the positive and negative senses) Rickey was with his players. But Mr. Frommer gives us a full picture of the man, of his religious background (which seems to have played no small part in his willingness to be a racial pioneer), his keen mind for the game and for business, and his endless maneuvering to improve his teams. Each man led a life full enough to support a biography of his own. Here we get both and they're fascinating.

But the event that defined their lives was the meeting on August 28, 1945, at Brooklyn Dodgers headquarters, between Rickey and Robinson. It's astonishing to realize that this first time the men ever met, Branch Rickey asked Jackie Robinson to take on the daunting task of being the first black man to play organized white baseball (at least since the color bar had been erected decades earlier). But Rickey had made a true project of the whole idea, had scouted the Negro Leagues and the personal backgrounds of the prospective players thoroughly, and he knew Robinson was uniquely well-suited-- by his ability, his intelligence, his education, his relatively middle-class California upbringing, and his temperament, desire, and will--to bear the burdens. And so "The Meeting" was not just a get acquainted session, but an opportunity for Rickey to probe and to prepare Robinson, even to the point of demonstrating the kind of taunts he should expect to hear, before offering him the bittersweet role of, as he put it: "carrying the reputation of a race on your shoulders."

The whole book is enjoyable but it is this chapter that really sings. The Meeting has been the subject of books, film, stageplay, and more, but it's never been told better than here, with high drama and a sense of history, but also with an immediacy that makes the reader feel like he's a fly on the wall in Rickey's office those sixty years ago. No one can understand what happened in baseball and in American society over those sixty years without knowing the story of Rickey and Robinson and, Mr. Frommer having given us such a rewarding and readable book about the men and their noble achievement, there's no excuse for not knowing it.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Harvey Frommer (5 books reviewed)
Sports (Baseball)
Harvey Frommer Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Harvey Frommer Sports
    -BOOK SITE: Remembering Yankee Stadium
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Remembering Yankee Stadium with Harvey Frommer (WCBS Radio)
    -BOOK SITE: Rickey and Robinson (Harvey Frommer)
    -ARCHIVES: Harvey Frommer on Sports & Culture (Travel-Watch)
    -EXCERPT: Dale Berra from Growing up Baseball
    -EXCERPT: Gene Conley from Growing up Baseball
    -EXCERPT: Pumpsie Green from Growing up Baseball
    -EXCERPT: Keith Hernandez from Growing up Baseball
    -EXCERPT: Monte Irvin from Growing up Baseball
    -EXCERPT: Mel Parnell from Growing up Baseball
    -EXCERPT: Johnny Pesky from Growing up Baseball
    -EXCERPT: Al Rosen from Growing up Baseball
    -EXCERPT: Nolan Ryan from Growing up Baseball
    -EXCERPT: Bobby Thomson from Growing up Baseball
    -ESSAY: Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: The Yankee Mystique (Harvey Frommer, Travel-Watch)
    -ESSAY: Don Larsen - The Perfect Game: October 8, 1956 (Harvey Frommer)
    -ESSAY: Celebrating Jackie Robinson (Harvey Frommer, January 31, 2000, Travel-Watch)
    -ESSAY: Bobby Thomson's Famous Homer Lives On (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson  (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: The Mets Have Always Been Amazing (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Shoeless Joe Remains a Scapegoat  (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Remembering the Yankee Clipper: Joe DiMaggio  (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Celebrating Hank Greenberg   (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Yankees vs. Red Sox: Baseball's Greatest Rivalry  (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY:  Reese was no Pee Wee (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Willie Mays and the Month of May  (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Gehrig's Streak (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Yankee Stadium's First Opening Day (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: The Birth of Baseball's First Professional Team (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Midsummer Classic: Midsummer Mockery (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Subway Series  (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Remembering Irving Rudd (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY:  Satchel Paige: World's Greatest Pitcher (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: The Yankee Mystique (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY:  Trade a Player a Year Too Early, Not a Year Too Late (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Baseball's Mecca: The Hall of Fame in Cooperstown (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: The Harmonica Incident: August 20, 1964  (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY:  The 1919 Black Sox (Part I) (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: The 1919 Black Sox (Part II)  (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: The First World Series  (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Let's Play Two (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Wee Willie Keeler: Good Things Come in Small Packages (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: The Big Train:  Walter Johnson, Baseball Immortal (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: New York City Baseball: Once Upon A Time (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -REVIEW: of Baseball's Best Shots  (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -REVIEW: of The Barry Halper Collection of Baseball Memorabilia (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -REVIEW: of Red Smith on Baseball (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -REVIEW: of "Fenway: A Biography in Words and Pictures"  (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -REVIEW: of  Yankee Doodle Dandies: Yankee Books  (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -REVIEW: of Baseball Books On Parade (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -REVIEW: of Sandy Koufax, Out of Brooklyn (Harvey Frommer, Baseball Library)
    -CHAT TRANSCRIPT: Growing Up Baseball with Harvey Frommer (Washington Post, 4/01/02)
    -CHAT TRANSCRIPT: It Happened in Manhattans with Myrna & Harvey Frommer (Washington Post, 5/13/02)
    -CHAT TRANSCRIPT: Baseball Labor Negotiations with Harvey Frommer (Washington Post, 8/30/02)
    -CHAT TRANSCRIPT: A Yankee Century with Harvey Frommer (Washington Post, 10/11/02)
    -REVIEW: of Remembering Yankee Stadium (Travis Nelson, Bleacher Report)
    -REVIEW: of A Yankee Century (Phil Speranza, Behind the Bombers)
    -REVIEW: of The New York Yankee Encyclopedia By Harvey Frommer (Dan Albaugh, World-Wide Collectors Digest)
    -REVIEW: of Primitive Baseball by Harvey Frommer (Gene Murdoch, Journal of Sport History)
    -REVIEW: of It Happened in Manhattan By Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer (Carter B. Horsley, City Review)
    -REVIEW: of It Happened in Manhattan (Kendal Dodge Butler, Culture Vulture)
    -REVIEW: of It Happened on Broadway:  An Oral History of the Great White Way By Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer (Carter B. Horsley, City Review)
    -REVIEW: of It Happened on Broadway (Kendal Dodge Butler, Culture Vulture)
    -REVIEW: of It Happened on Broadway (Victor Castillo, KC Stage)
    -REVIEW: of It Happened on Broadway (Elyse Sommer, Curtain Up)

Book-related and General Links:

    -EXCERPT: The Men who Broke Baseball's Color Line (Excerpt from Harvey Frommer's "Rickey and Robinson")
    -ESSAY: Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson (Harvey Frommer,
    -ESSAY: Celebrating Jackie Robinson (Harvey Frommer,
    -ESSAY: Remembering Irving Rudd (Harvey Frommer,
    -ESSAY: Rickey & Robinson revisited: New book recounts historic signing (Fred Claire,

    -The Jackie Robinson Society
    -EXHIBIT: Jackie Robinson and other Baseball highlights (Library of Congress)
    -INTERVIEW: Transcript of interview with Branch Rickey by Davis J. Walsh [1955?] (Library of Congress)
    -JACKIE ROBINSON: GOLDEN (Online Newshour, APRIL 15, 1997, PBS)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Teaching With Documents Lesson Plan: Beyond the Playing Field - Jackie Robinson, Civil Rights Advocate (NARA)
    -ESSAY: Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson: Precursors to the Civil Rights Movement (Ira Glasser, The World & I)
    -ESSAY: The Journalist Who Helped Jackie Robinson Break the Color Bar (George Beres, 6-02-03, History News Network)
    -ESSAY: Jackie changed face of sports (Larry Schwartz, ESPN: Sports Century)
    -ESSAY: How Jackie Robinson Desegregated America: Perhaps the least-learned lesson of the saga of Jackie Robinson is that competition can transform self-interest into an engine for racial fairness. (STEVE SAILER)
    -ESSAY: Memories of Jackie Robinson (Sam Person,
    -STUDY PLAN: Baseball and The Multi- Cultural Experience: Jackie Robinson - Document-Based Questions (Doug Kaufman)
    -ESSAY: Jackie Robinson's Sad Song
    -ESSAY: Racism still haunts baseball (BOB NIGHTENGALE, April 13, 1997, The Sporting News)
    -ESSAY: Baseball's Sublime Hero (David Conrads)