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Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season

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April 15, 1947, marked the most important opening day in baseball history. When Jackie Robinson stepped onto the diamond that afternoon at Ebbets Field, he became the first black man to break into major-league baseball in the twentieth century. World War II had just ended. Democracy had triumphed. Now Americans were beginning to press for justice on the home front -- and Robinson had a chance to lead the way.

He was an unlikely hero. He had ...
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New first edition, first printing hardcover and dust jacket in excellent condition. Tiny crease at bottom board. Protective mylar cover. 1.2 x 9.3 x 6.1 Inches In <I>Opening ... Day</i>, Jonathan Eig tells the true story behind the national pastime's most sacred myth. Along the way he offers new insights into events of sixty years ago and punctures some familiar legends. Read more Show Less

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Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season

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Overview

April 15, 1947, marked the most important opening day in baseball history. When Jackie Robinson stepped onto the diamond that afternoon at Ebbets Field, he became the first black man to break into major-league baseball in the twentieth century. World War II had just ended. Democracy had triumphed. Now Americans were beginning to press for justice on the home front -- and Robinson had a chance to lead the way.

He was an unlikely hero. He had little experience in organized baseball. His swing was far from graceful. And he was assigned to play first base, a position he had never tried before that season. But the biggest concern was his temper. Robinson was an angry man who played an aggressive style of ball. In order to succeed he would have to control himself in the face of what promised to be a brutal assault by opponents of integration.

In Opening Day, Jonathan Eig tells the true story behind the national pastime's most sacred myth. Along the way he offers new insights into events of sixty years ago and punctures some familiar legends. Was it true that the St. Louis Cardinals plotted to boycott their first home game against the Brooklyn Dodgers? Was Pee Wee Reese really Robinson's closest ally on the team? Was Dixie Walker his greatest foe? How did Robinson handle the extraordinary stress of being the only black man in baseball and still manage to perform so well on the field? Opening Day is also the story of a team of underdogs that came together against tremendous odds to capture the pennant. Facing the powerful New York Yankees, Robinson and the Dodgers battled to the seventh game in one of the most thrilling World Series competitions of all time.

Drawing on interviews with surviving players, sportswriters, and eyewitnesses, as well as newly discovered material from archives around the country, Jonathan Eig presents a fresh portrait of a ferocious competitor who embodied integration's promise and helped launch the modern civil-rights era. Full of new details and thrilling action, Opening Day brings to life baseball's ultimate story.
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Editorial Reviews

Matt Schudel
[Robinson's] story has been told before in three classics of baseball literature, Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer, Jules Tygiel's Baseball's Great Experiment and Arnold Rampersad's full-length biography, but Eig's detailed study stands proudly with them. He shows how Robinson, with his bat, his glove and his heart, helped build a level playing field.
— The Washington Post
Jay Jennings
Against this backdrop, Eig recounts the flash points that have grown into myths and largely reduces them from grand opera to folk song, a story of endurance and forbearance rather than sturm und drang. Dixie Walker, a popular Alabamian who supposedly led an internal team revolt, is portrayed as mostly concerned about how playing with Robinson might affect his hardware business back home. A famous gesture of support from Pee Wee Reese, the Kentucky-born shortstop who reputedly threw his arm around Robinson on the field to quiet a hostile crowd, is presented as largely apocryphal, and an alleged strike by the Cardinals as very likely a media exaggeration. Eig’s deflation of the extremes of both opposition and support seems more complexly true and does justice to the man rather than the legend.
— The New York Times
Library Journal
What life was really like for rookie Robinson during the year he broke the color barrier in baseball; from a senior special writer at the Wall Street Journal. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

Boasting a 125,000-copy first printing, this book will be published on the 60th anniversary of Robinson's breaking the color barrier with his first ML at bat. Veterans of the subject are not likely to find much new here, but that does not diminish the value of Eig's (Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig) accomplished narrative or the moving story of a man who, in breathing integrity into baseball, probably sacrificed his own chances for a long life. Necessary for all general baseball collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/06.]


—Bob Cottrell, Margaret Heilbrun, Paul Kaplan, Gilles Renaud Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From the Publisher
"Allen gives this chronicle...a measured and dignifiedreading, conveying both the excitement of the on-field action and the tense drama of Robinson's journey into the previously all-white world of pro baseball." —-Booklist
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743294607
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 3/28/2007
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Eig

Jonathan Eig is a former senior special writer for The Wall Street Journal. He is the author of several books, including two highly acclaimed bestsellers, Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig and Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season. Visit him at JonathanEig.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Opening Day

The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season
By Jonathan Eig

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2007 Jonathan Eig
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780743294607

PROLOGUE

April 10, 1947

The telephone rang like an alarm, waking Jackie Robinson from deep sleep.

"Hello," he mumbled.

It was early morning in Manhattan. Robinson was alone in room 1169 of the McAlpin Hotel, across the street from Macy's. He had been on edge all week, his stomach in knots. As he listened to the voice on the other end of the phone, he was poised to embark on a journey -- one that would test his courage, shake the game of baseball to its roots, and forever change the face of the nation. Throughout history, heroic quests have often been launched on grand orders. "The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River . . . ," wrote Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis. "The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!" General Dwight David Eisenhower exhorted his troops before the D-Day invasion. But the commanding words that sent Robinson on his way this cool, gray morning were uttered by a humble secretary.

Come to Brooklyn, she said.

He showered and shaved and hurried out of the hotel. He was on his way to meet Branch Rickey, president and part owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and to learn whether Rickey was ready to end the segregation of the races in big-league baseball.

In1947, some southern states still denied the vote to black Americans. Black children were not entitled to attend the same schools as white children. Lynch mobs executed their own bloodthirsty style of justice while local law enforcement officials looked the other way. "I'm sorry, but they done got him," one sheriff in North Carolina announced that year after a gang of white men made off with one of his prisoners. Black Americans were excluded not only from certain schools but also from parks, beaches, playgrounds, department stores, night clubs, swimming pools, roller-skating rinks, theaters, rest rooms, barber shops, railroad cars, bus seats, military units, libraries, factory floors, and hospitals. In the North, WHITES ONLY signs were far less evident than in the South, but the veiled message was often the same. Black men on business in Chicago, Detroit, or Cleveland usually stayed in black-owned hotels, rode in black-owned taxis, and dined in black-owned restaurants. If a white man became acquainted with a black man, odds were good that the acquaintance stemmed from some service the black man performed for the white man -- shining his shoes, for example, or mowing his lawn, or mixing his cocktails.

Segregation suffused the nation's culture, and yet profound changes were rippling across the country. Black workers moved from South to North in great waves, reshaping urban spaces and lending new muscle to organized labor. Black soldiers coming home from the war declared they would no longer tolerate second-class citizenship. Federal judges commanded southern states to stop obstructing the black vote. President Truman signed an order to end segregation in the military. And in major-league baseball, where there were sixteen teams and every player on every one of those teams was white, a single black man was presented an opportunity to change the equation: to make it one black man and 399 white.

The test case represented by Jackie Robinson was one of towering importance to the country. Here was a chance for one person to prove the bigots and white supremacists wrong, and to say to the nation's fourteen million black Americans that the time had come for them to compete as equals. But it would happen only if a long list of "ifs" worked out just so: if the Brooklyn Dodgers gave Robinson the opportunity to play; if he played well; if he won the acceptance of teammates and fans; if no race riots erupted; if no one put a bullet through his head. The "ifs" alone were enough to agitate a man's stomach. Then came the matter of Robinson himself. He perceived racism in every glare, every murmur, every called third strike. He was not the most talented black ballplayer in the country. He had a weak throwing arm and a creaky ankle. He had only one year of experience in the minor leagues, and, at twenty-eight, he was a little bit old for a first-year player. But he loved a fight. His greatest assets were tenacity and a knack for getting under an opponent's skin. He would slash a line drive to left field, run pigeon-toed down the line, take a big turn at first base, slam on the brakes, and skitter back to the bag. Then, as the pitcher prepared to go to work on the next batter, Robinson would take his lead from first base, bouncing on tiptoes like a dropped rubber ball, bouncing, bouncing, bouncing, taunting the pitcher, and daring everyone in the park to guess when he would take off running again. While other men made it a point to avoid danger on the base paths, Robinson put himself in harm's way every chance he got. His speed and guile broke down the game's natural order and left opponents cursing and hurling their gloves. When chaos erupted, that's when he knew he was at his best.

On that April 10 morning, as he rode the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn, Robinson understood exactly what he was getting into. One prominent black journalist had written that the ballplayer had more power than Congress to help break the chains that bound the descendants of slavery to lives lived in inequity and despair. Before he'd even swung a bat in the big leagues, Robinson was being compared to Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver, and Joe Louis, with some writers concluding that this man would do more for his people than any of the others. The time had come, they said, for black Americans to stake their claim to the justice and equal rights they so richly deserved, and now a baseball player had arrived to show them the way. Robinson absorbed the newspaper articles. He felt the weight on his shoulders and decided there was nothing to do but carry it as fast and as far as he could.

A cold wind met him as he climbed out of the subway onto the busy streets of Brooklyn. He walked to 215 Montague Street. Waiting for him there was Branch Rickey, a potato-shaped man in a wrinkled suit. The office was dark and cluttered. Rickey got straight to business, offering Robinson a standard contract for five-thousand dollars, the league's minimum annual salary.

"Simple, wasn't it?" Robinson recalled later. "It could have happened to you. The telephone rings. You answer it . . . and you're in the Big Leagues. . . . Just like a fairy tale. . . . I went to bed one night wearing pajamas and woke up wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers' uniform."

He knew it was no fairy tale, of course. He knew that a happy ending was far from assured. Most big-leaguers in 1947 had never been on the same field as a black man, had never shared a locker room, a shower, a taxi, a train car, or a dining-room table with one. Big-league culture was so thoroughly dominated by white southerners that even rough Italian kids from northern cities experienced shock and isolation upon arrival. There was no telling how Robinson would be received. He was not yet a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and already half a dozen or more of his prospective teammates promised they would quit or demand a trade before they would play with him. Elsewhere, players spoke of a league-wide strike. They were willing to destroy the game they loved rather than see it stained by integration. Others said it would be simpler to take Robinson out with a well-aimed fastball to the head, or with a set of metal cleats driven through his Achilles tendon on a close play at first base -- something that would look like an accident.

Rickey made only one demand of Robinson. He asked the ballplayer to promise that he would never respond to the racist attacks that would surely come his way. When Rickey quoted a passage from Giovanni Papini's Life of Christ -- "But whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" -- Robinson sought clarification. Did Rickey want a player who didn't have the guts to fight back? No, the boss answered, "I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back."

Rickey turned and walked away while Robinson thought about it for a moment. Though the request would require Robinson to subdue his most basic instincts, and though he had no idea, honestly, whether he could compete without an outlet for his seething sense of indignation, he said he would try. With that, the season's storyline was set.

Robinson became baseball's biggest attraction in 1947. According to one survey, he was the second most famous man in America, trailing only Bing Crosby. Americans yearned for a sense of normalcy in the aftermath of the war, yet everything around them was in flux. Robinson, a human whirlwind, captured the spirit of the time better than anyone. When the Dodgers went on the road, thousands of black men and women traveled great distances to get a glimpse of him, as if to see for themselves that he was real, to share his dignity and glory, to watch this proud, defiant man, the grandson of slaves, stake a claim on their behalf to what Langston Hughes called "the dream deferred." Railroad companies scheduled special runs. Black parents named their children, boys and girls, after him. White kids from small towns in the Midwest sat surrounded by black men and women at the ballpark and wondered why their parents seemed anxious. Jewish families in Brooklyn gathered around their dining-room tables for Passover Seders and discussed what Moses had in common with a fleet-footed, right-hand-hitting infielder with the number 42 on his back. White business owners integrated their factory floors and wrote to Robinson to thank him for opening their eyes. Young ballplayers of every color imitated his style, wiping their hands on their trousers between pitches, swinging with arms outstretched, and running helter-skelter around makeshift bases.

Jackie Robinson showed that talent mattered more than skin color, supplying a blueprint for the integration of a nation. He led the Dodgers to the greatest season the team's fans had yet seen, to a World Series showdown with the New York Yankees, the outcome in doubt until the final inning of the seventh and final game.

But it was something else, something more personal, that captured the American imagination that summer.

It was the story of a man filled with fear and fury. It was Jackie Robinson, all alone, taking his lead from the base, bouncing, bouncing, bouncing . . . and a nation waiting to see what he would do next.

Copyright © 2007 by Jonathan Eig



Continues...


Excerpted from Opening Day by Jonathan Eig Copyright © 2007 by Jonathan Eig. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Prologue     1
Jack Roosevelt Robinson     7
"Some Good Colored Players"     20
The Uprising     35
Opening Day     48
Up in Harlem     62
Praying for Base Hits     79
Cardinal Sins     89
The Great Road Trip     99
Tearing Up the Pea Patch     113
Pee Wee's Embrace     123
The Glorious Crusade     131
"A Smile of Almost Painful Joy"     141
Up and Down MacDonough Street     148
A Real Gone Guy     159
A Good Thing for Everybody     175
The Poison Pen     194
The Unbeatable Yanks     203
Dixie Walker's Dilemma     210
The Footsteps of Enos "Country" Slaughter     218
Shadow Dancing     234
"We Aren't Afraid"     246
"And the World Series Is Over!"     259
Epilogue     263
Acknowledgments     277
Notes     281
Index     311
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2013

    Jackie Robinson is one of the most famous

    Jackie Robinson is one of the most famous baseball players that have ever played professional baseball. There came a consequence for him being black playing baseball. All white people disagreed with this choice and they called him mean names. Although the Dodger’s manager at the time named, Branch Rickey, still thought it was a good idea at the time and he would help guide him through the whole thing. He thought that this would not only make his team better but, separate the differences between whites and black. This choice did make the Dodgers a better baseball team. Jackie has many problems along the way of the season with racist slurs. Sometimes he would have to go to the dugout and cry. His coach kept helping him along the way till there were no more problems.
    This was well written because it shows how he is not only a good baseball player but, a hero for going through all of this. It’s interesting how the author talks about his challenges and how he tried to get through this. The author does a good job showing how the whites and the blacks clashed at this time. The author does this by showing what the white people said to the black people at this time. The thing the author did the best is showed how Branch Rickey did an amazing job helping Jackie with his problems being the only black baseball player in professional baseball.
    -Dustin J., 14

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2012

    Five stars.

    Five stars.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2009

    A great story

    A great baseball, and truly American story about a man who faced challenges that 99% has never nor will they ever go through because Jackie did it for them.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A good read, not just for baseball fans.

    This was a well researched, well written book about Jackie Robinson's first year in the major league. It revealed a lot about what he had to endure both on the field and off; from fans, players, the press and in his personal life. In many ways he has been seen as a larger than life figure but this book reveals the man Jackie Robinson, a man with weaknesses but a man of courage who endured humiliations for the game and for equality for all races.

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  • Posted May 23, 2009

    Great Man

    This book truly shows what a great man Jackie Robinson was and what he had to endure to break the color barriers of baseball. If you are a fan of baseball history this is a must read.

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  • Posted April 29, 2009

    Jackie Robinson - Baseball player and human being

    Jonathan Eig's book about Jackie Robinson and his first season as the first African American to play major league baseball is a revelation. This book gives the reader an "on the field" look at Jackie during his ground breaking season. Eig is a good writer who captures the high drama of this season. I highly recommend this book.

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  • Posted April 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Jackie Robinson and the color barrier

    When I bought Opening Day, I was not too sure how the subject, Jackie Robinson's first season in the major leagues, was going to be addressed. Would it be factual/historical account of Branch Rickey's and Jackie's efforts to break the color barrier in the game or a lyrical treatment of race in America's pastime? To my pleasant surprise, it is both.
    Eig handles a subject previoulsy written about in a day by day approach to the integration of baseball beginning with the Negro Leagues, through Jackie's signing with Brooklyn, his season in the minors, through the World Series of 1947, and ending with Jackie's death.
    The day-to-day or game-to-game treatment is nothing new, but it works effectively in telling Jackie Robinson's heroic efforts, by stifling his own combativeness, to be the best candidate to make baseball truly America's pastime.

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  • Posted March 5, 2009

    Opening Day The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season

    Jackie Robinson, like Abraham Lincoln, has been the subject of many books. A reader is justified in wondering, What can be said that has not been written already? And like Lincoln, Robinson is often revered in almost mythical terms.
    In Opening Day Jonathan Eig presents Robinson, the man, not the myth, during the historic 1947 season. Along the way he offers insights into the supporting cast: fans, press, teammates, opponents, executives, and other black players. The photographs enhance the text.
    There is a detailed look at Robinson's relationship with "his Boswell", black newspaper writer Wendell Smith.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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