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An Eyewitness Account of Jackie's First Day at Work

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It's easy to talk about breaking the color line like it was no big deal. Like it was anything imaginable to what the pampered players of today experience. Like it was something we could even conceive.

The truth was the MLB owners unanimously voted against Jackie being allowed to play and even his fellow Dodgers signed a petition to stop blacks from playing baseball.

Imagine what it would be like to go to work tomorrow knowing that most of your co-workers and pretty much everyone in your industry didn't want you to be there. Not because of how you did your job, but simply because of where your ancestors were born and how they got to America.

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Veteran AP baseball writer Jim Becker was at Ebbets Field 60 years ago when Jackie Robinson opened the door for blacks, and what Becker remembers is how quiet it was that day in Brooklyn.

About 10,000 of a crowd that would swell to almost 26,000 at the tidy old park, many of them black, had gathered well before game time. They made no special sound when Robinson appeared. No cameras flashed. Television was in its infancy, and there were no TV cameras on hand. It was as if all of us _ writers, fans and players on both teams, the Dodgers and the visiting Boston Braves _ had come to an unspoken agreement to behave as though it was just another opening day at the ballpark. And, by the way, a black man played for the Dodgers.

There were good reasons for this. The writers knew that the owners of the other l5 teams in the major leagues had voted unanimously to oppose the introduction of a black player.

We knew that Branch Rickey, the Dodgers' major-domo who had signed Robinson against all opposition to a minor league contract the year before (he was the Most Valuable Player in the International League in l946), had hoped his Brooklyn players would have been impressed by Robinson's obvious talent to ask that he be added to the roster. Instead Rickey had been greeted with a petition signed by some key players _ with the conspicuous exception of captain and shortstop, PeeWee Reese, a Kentuckian _ that they did not want to play with a black man. We had heard rumors that at least one national league team was organizing a strike rather than play against Robinson.

So once again we ask, what would you have done if you knew that your co-workers had written a petition against you, and your industry leaders had unanimously voted to have you barred from work? Would you have turned around and gone home and quit, or would you have sucked it up and produced Rookie of the Year numbers, followed by a Hall of Fame career? Read all of Becker's great remembrance of April 15, 1947 here.

photo via Baseball as America