Author's Note: It’s spring in the time of plague, and I write this just about when baseball season should begin. It won’t for a while, and maybe there won’t be a 2020 season. That got me thinking that it is now 73 years since Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color line, and 100 years since Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees. Here’s one for Jackie and one for the Babe.
In 1947 Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color line. In the movie “42” Ben Chapman, The Alabama Flash, who had played for the Yankees before being displaced by Joe DiMaggio and was now managing the Phils, kept up a stream of racist abuse until Robinson stole bases and scored to win the game. Then the famous photograph, the two men making nice. But in 1952 Chapman was at it again, coaching third base for the Cincinnati Reds. “Here boy, here Jackie boy, come over here and shine my shoes.” Robinson walked toward third, “Say one more word, Chapman, I’m gonna kick the shit out of you.” Robinson had been a star four sport athlete at UCLA – he was big and fast and tough. Chapman shut his mouth. Sometimes the real story beats the movie cold.
I met Babe Ruth in my dream last night. He remembered my name, which was strange, as he called most guys “keed” and sometimes tipped his teammates, mistaking them for bellboys. “Stevo,” he said, “Let’s go for a ride,” and of course we crashed just over the bridge in New Jersey, but we beat it out of there before the cops came. The moon was up over the water and we stared at its reflection for a while. Later, at the bar, he told me he was going to the Yankees, but not to pitch. I told him he’d be huge there, but he just shrugged. I pitched for him, throwing high and hard. He smashed a lot of balls into the upper deck in right. That year he hit .376 with 54 home runs, led the league in runs and RBI’s. “I always wanted to play the violin,” he said, shaking his head as if that dream would never come true. “Me too,” I said, and we wept softly in our beer for the skills that would break our mortal hearts.
©2020 Steve Klepetar
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