I was already a Baseball fan when the Dodgers moved out west in 1958. Jackie Robinson had retired after the 1956 season and I never got the chance to see him play.
Through the story-telling of their long-time radio announcer Vin Scully, I became aware of Jackie, and what he went through, to some extent, in breaking Baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
Back then, one of the local TV channels in Southern California regularly aired a movie each week, the same movie for five nights, Monday through Friday at 8 PM, billing it as the ‘Million Dollar Movie’.
One week, when I was ten, the Million Dollar Movie was the 1950 production of ‘The Jackie Robinson Story’, with Jackie Robinson playing himself. I was mesmerized, watching it all five nights, being allowed to stay up past my bedtime.
The movie tells of his youthful days in Pasadena, then UCLA (where he lettered in four sports), and finally his introduction to Organized Baseball.
Only then did I begin to get a glimpse of what he went through, accomplished, and overcame -- not to mention being able to see him with my own eyes, hear him speak, swing the bat, run the bases, and do all the things a ballplayer does.
Fast forward almost ten years, and I was a sophomore at Fullerton Jr. College, serving as the stat-boy and team manager for the school basketball team. The previous year our team had finished third in state, behind powerful Pasadena CC and their up-and-coming head coach Jerry Tarkanian. On a December Saturday night in 1969, our team travelled to Pasadena to play the defending state champs (in what turned out to be a tiny shell of a gym, with maybe three rows of seats around the court).
As the players on our team were getting dressed in the locker room prior to the game, I wandered about, looking around to see if there were any school records posted on the walls, as was the case at most schools.
I usually found it a satisfying exercise, because invariably a familiar name or two would reveal itself, sort of an ‘aha’ moment for me, when I would recognize someone I’d read or heard about – an athlete who may have gone on to Olympic glory or professional ball.
Track and field records were the most interesting to look for.
It was rare for me to see a record that had lasted for much longer than five years, if that, at any school. Somebody always seemed to come along, aiming and succeeding at getting their name on their school’s record board.
But that night in 1969, I saw a record on the wall in the locker room at Pasadena CC that had stood since 1939!
As my eyes moved to learn more, I saw that the event was the Broad Jump (now known, more politely, as the Long Jump).
And that man who had held the school record for thirty years (and may still, to this day, for all I know) was Jackie Robinson.
We celebrate great athletes all the time, for their on-the-field feats.
Too much, perhaps.
But the day comes when all athletes see their talents fade, usually when they are still in the prime of their youth.
What they do afterwards stands as the true mark of their character and the impact they had.
“A life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives,” Jackie said on many occasions.
The impact Jackie Robinson had in his life broke barriers, impacting our nation in a far greater way than almost anybody who came before him, or since.
He shines as a Beacon to us all.
And how far he jumped in 1939 doesn’t really matter any more.
There’s no question about it.