Saturday, November 27, 2010

Everybody Does Things Their Own Way

Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays had background and personalities as well as their views on social issues that could not have been more different. Everything about the young Mays-apprehensive, amicable, fearful of controversy-Robinson contradicted. Robinson grew up amid affluence in Pasadena, California. Even as a boy, Robinson had a quick temper-he threw rocks at the father of a girl who called him a "nigger."

Unlike Mays, he could not abide blacks' second-class status, which led to repeated confrontations.

Branch Rickey saw Robinson's defiance as a source of strength, which he would need to endure the slurs. On his expense account, along with the usual items (such as meals, rent, transportation, cleaners, etc.) he inserted "humiliation," without specifying an amount, and suggested the Dodgers quantify the indignities he had suffered.

Robinson's frequent confrontations with the umpires prompted Jocko Conlan to say that Robinson "was the most difficult ballplayer I had to deal with... Jackie was one of those players who could never accept a decision...Almost every time he was called out on strikes or on a close play on the bases, there seemed to be a few words."

Mays, by contrast, rarely argued with umpires, would greet them as he jogged to center field, and was never ejected from a game-in 22 seasons. He says he couldn't help the team from the clubhouse.

Where Robinson bitterly opposed discrimination, Mays turned segregation into a profit center. In St. Louis, baseball teams stayed at the Chase Hotel, which banned black patrons. Robinson demanded that the Chase drop it's racial barrier, and in 1954 the hotel finally relented on a limited basis: blacks could sleep there but could not use the dining room, the swimming pool, or loiter in the lobby.

Mays didn't care about the Chase, he preferred staying in a black hotel. The Giants gave him the cash to cover the expenses for all the minority players, but the hotel waived their bill as long as they hung out in the dining room and bar- it was great publicity-and Mays divvied up the surplus cash among himself and the other banned players.

Don Newcomber, (former Brooklyn Dodger teammate) on Jackie Robinson, "He was the kind of man who had to make his presence felt. He sometimes overdid it. Like a boiler, he could not keep it all inside him."

Donald Honig said: "Robinson by virtue of seething pride, unforgiving resentments, his belligerency, and his outspokenness, was always the symbol of racial progress and aspiration. For some blacks, the innocent laughing Mays seemed too close to stereotype. Where Robinson threatened the social order, Willie approximated a comfortable fit."

Wells Twombley, of the San Francisco Examiner wrote: "The first time that it became obvious that racism was starting to slip in this country came one spring morning in 1966. On a Texas meadow here was this blue-eyed, freckle-faced grandson of a Klansman catching a fly ball in a Little League game and shouting, "Look at me, I'm Willie Mays."

(from the Autobiography of Willie Mays by James Hirsch)

I may eventually run out of stories to share.

Kevin J. Marquez