Saturday, June 23, 2007

First Capitol News Sports - Mike McMurran Sports Editor

I’ve always had somewhat mixed emotions about the baseball-wide retiring of number 42, the number wore by Jackie Robinson of the Dodgers. You see, I can remember the wonderful year of 1982, the year the Cardinals beat the Brewers in 7 games for the teams’ 9th World Championship. Many will remember the nickname Jack Buck gave Bruce Sutter that summer, “Engine Number 42” has entered the game for the Cardinals. I’m not certain they year baseball decided to retire the number, but I am certain I had mixed feelings.

Well, as the Creator of the Universe would have it, Harry Griffitts and his son Derrick invited Joe and me to a Cardinal game last summer. It was an overcast Sunday afternoon that turned into a rainy Sunday afternoon the minute we entered the Stadium. The rain let up long enough to unveil the newest of retired numbers along the left field fence – the number was 42, and it was shared by Jackie Robinson and Bruce Sutter. Once the ceremony was complete, the skies opened up for a solid two hours, and the game was officially rained out. I can proudly say I was at the first rain out in the history of the new stadium.

I shared with Joe how for years to come, probably even after I am dead and buried, he will look at the retired number 42 and always remember that he and I attended the ceremony retiring the number. As sick as it may sound, Joe and I have such conversations. Recently though, Joe wanted to know why black people were not allowed to play major league baseball until Jackie Robinson came along. Not an easy question to answer.

Those familiar with my philosophical background understand my liberal to moderate thought process. That being said, I wanted to make sure I didn’t incorporate my biases into my explanation to Joe. Rather, I focused on the positive.

I explained to Joe that until Jackie Robinson played in the major leagues, seldom were there large numbers of blacks and whites together at the same place. Once he started playing thousands, literally thousand of blacks began attending major league baseball games. At any given game there would be thousands of blacks as well as thousands of whites – something that really never before happened in American Culture. “That’s cool dad, but why was he not allowed to play in the majors?” I could see all the money I was paying for tuition at ASH was paying off. Rather than answer Joe’s question, I danced around it, and he called me on it.

I then went on to explain to Joe that many people in the United States simply didn’t want black people and white people to do things together. They wanted separate schools, churches, baseball leagues – even neighborhoods. As usual, Joe wanted to know if there were any books at the library on Jackie Robinson, so we went and found one on Joe’s reading level. It took him all of three hours to finish the book (he gets his reading habits from me), and he shared with me the following. “Dad, our Country wasn’t always the best place for blacks to live. Not only that, this book says one of the cities that was the most rude to Jackie Robinson was St. Louis. It said the first time he came to St. Louis, Jackie had to stay with an Army buddy of his because he could stay in the same hotel as the rest of the team.” Wow, I thought to myself, reading is really a powerful tool. “You remember don’t you dad?” he then added. “Pardon me Joe?” He repeated, “You remember when Jackie Robinson first came to St. Louis, it says in the book he first played here in 1947, you were alive then, weren’t you?” (His math skills come from his mom)

I then explained to Joe that I really didn’t become a Cardinal fan until some years later, 1964 to be exact, at the age of ten – so no, I wasn’t alive when Jackie Robinson first came to St. Louis.

My point? After talking with my son about the importance of Jackie Robinson’s contribution to not only major league baseball, but to American society, I now understand why his number, number 42, will never be worn by another player. I understand as well as agree. Most importantly, it was a lesson I learned with my son. Thanks Joe, you really are something special.