Having bought into the mythology of Jackie Robinson recounted in Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns, I found "Seven things you might not know about Jackie Robinson" at 6-4-2 particularly interesting.
Following are the seven bullet points; click on the link for details:
1. There never was any agreement between Robinson and Branch Rickey to silence Robinson for the first two years.
2. Robinson's ascent to the majors wasn't considered newsworthy at the time.
3. Jackie Robinson was partly responsible for the creation of Dodgertown.
4. Robinson was also partly responsible for the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles.
5. Robinson had already decided to retire at the time he was traded.
6. He was a Republican and a supporter of Richard Nixon.
7. The side effects of diabetes got him.
The biggest surprise is hearing that the three-year (as I remember from the documentary) gentlemen's agreement between Robinson and Rickey was a piece of revisionist history. A more tentative initial relationship between the two would seem to undermine the premeditation of Rickey's decision to promote Robinson.
Similarly, the documentary examines the newsworthiness of this promotion by emphasizing Kenesaw Mountain Landis' fervent segregationist views, at least regarding baseball. On the other hand, according to the Washington Times article referenced by 6-4-2:
When Robinson broke into Organized Baseball with the Class AAA Montreal Royals a year earlier, not one of seven mainstream New York City newspapers sent a reporter across the river to Jersey City to cover the event. Nor, in that more socially restrictive time, was his major league debut considered a major news event....
For many black fans in the stands, however, Robinson was the man of the hour. Every time he came up, cries like "come on, Jackie -- we're with you, boy!" could be heard.
The issue is contextual; not newsworthy by the yardstick of "mainstream" (i.e., white) newspapers, but certainly significant to the disenfranchised.
(As an aside, while I have no doubt about the emotional devastation the Dodgers' move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles caused to a generation of New Yorkers, I wonder why only 6,702 people attended their last game at Ebbets Field. Could sentiment be outweighing the economic reality here?)
Also debunked is the famous notion that Robinson preferred to retire rather than play for the Giants—another lesson in never letting the truth get in the way of a good story?
In a 1997 interview with Charlie Rose, Jackie's widow Rachel said she was never able to talk to Jackie about death. Diabetes may be his cause of death on record, but who knows how many years Robinson lost to stress?
(Another aside: Rachel always refers to him as "Jack." Who started calling him "Jackie" and was it an attempt to make him more appealing to the general public?)
While not mentioned at 6-4-2, it seems appropriate to mention Robinson's supposed feud with Paul Robeson. From "Honoring Jackie Robinson" by Jabari Asim of the Washington Post:
[Robinson's] declaration of patriotism before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1949 rebutted controversial remarks by the equally great singer-activist Paul Robeson, who had argued that it was "unthinkable that American Negroes would go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for generations." Robinson was vilified in some circles and denounced as a scoundrel who sold Robeson down the river.
Arnold Rampersad, author of the acclaimed "Jackie Robinson: A Biography," writes persuasively that Robinson "had no special desire to join a fight against Robeson." He argues that Robinson, himself a veteran, saw Robeson's remarks as an "implicit rebuke" to "black men from the American Revolution down to World War II" who "had struggled at every point for the right to be warriors in defense of the nation."
Robeson declined to take Robinson's testimony personally. "I have no quarrel with Jackie," he said. "I have a great deal of respect for him. He is entitled to his views. I feel that the House committee has insulted Jackie, it has insulted me, it has insulted the entire Negro race."
The more I learn about Jackie Robinson, the more incredible it seems that his major league debut was only 60 years ago. Two black head coaches in this year's Super Bowl? Definitely newsworthy.
And on the subject of pioneers, Tim Kurkjian at ESPN.com anticipates Hank Aaron returning to the spotlight as Barry Bonds closes in on his home run record.