The Fire Within

Jackie Robinson's temper emerges in a new bio
April 15, 2007

THIS SEASON,baseball will mark the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking of thebig league color barrier with commemorations of the man and his legacy. Thereis also Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season, a finerevisionist study by Jonathan Eig, which tells us that Robinson was not quitewhat he seemed to be.

For decades theconventional wisdom has been that Brooklyn Dodgers G.M. Branch Rickey pickedRobinson to break the color barrier because Robinson was married, God-fearing,college-educated and comfortable with white people. Eig—a writer for The WallStreet Journal who also wrote The Luckiest Man, an acclaimed biography of LouGehrig—suggests instead that "Rickey wanted an angry black man ... adark-skinned man whose presence could be more strongly felt.... Clearly, theDodger boss sought a man who would not just raise the issue of equal rights butwould press it."

Eig's researchalso explodes myths about Robinson's teammates, who for the most part did notsupport him when he first joined the club. One famous incident took placeduring Robinson's first trip to Cincinnati in his rookie season, as Reds fansat Crosley Field besieged him with racist taunts. The story goes thatKentucky-born Pee Wee Reese left his position at shortstop to go over toRobinson at first base, and in a gesture of brotherhood, he put his arm aroundRobinson and whispered something into his ear, silencing the crowd.

Eig writes thatthis probably didn't happen. Almost no one who was present at the gameremembers the scene, and later Robinson placed a similar event, in somewhatless heroic terms, in 1948. What is certain is that Reese became a sort ofexemplar for right-minded conduct. Eig says it's more likely that Reese andRobinson became close friends only after the latter moved to second base in '48and they became double-play partners.

Other Dodgers fromthat year have said Robinson taught them the meaning of courage. "But theymade the claims only after Robinson had established himself as a winner,"writes Eig, "and only after it had become fashionable to support civilrights."

The lesson ofOpening Day is that a good redemptive story isn't always the same as the truth.But if Robinson was a temperamental man, he's no less a hero for hisself-restraint—and perhaps is even more of one.

Click This

FEW THINGS are cooler than bowling trick shots. O.K.Pretty much everything is cooler than bowling trick shots—except when Norm Dukedoes them. YouTube's "Awesome Bowling Trick Shot" features the43-year-old pro at his finest. Duke starts a slowly spinning ball down thelane, then throws a second ball that takes out nine pins before the first ballarrives to pick up the spare. Chicks dig it when you can do this kind of stuff.O.K. They don't. But it's still pretty cool.

Book Watch

IF YOU read just one hypothetical tell-all by anaccused killer this year ... find something better than If I Did It. Still, youmay have a chance to see O.J. Simpson's scribblings. In an auction inSacramento on April 17, HarperCollins will sell the rights to Simpson's accountof how he would have killed his wife, Nicole, and her friend Ron Goldman if hewere the killer. (If was pulled before its original Nov. 30 publication date.)One possible buyer? Fred Goldman, Ron's father, who would publish the book—witha few tweaks. Says Goldman's lawyer David Cook, "The title would be I DidIt."

PHOTOSETH BROWARNIK/WIREIMAGE.COM (SIMPSON) PHOTOMARK N. DERSE (BOWLING) PHOTOMEL LEVINE (LAPTOP) PHOTOBOB WHEELER (ROBINSON)ANGRY YOUNG MAN? Eig punctures several myths about Robinson and his teammates. PHOTOERICK W. RASCO (BOOK)

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