Jackie Robinson Stands Alone

Brian ConlinAnalyst IJune 26, 2008

With tremendous hacks, Babe Ruth blasted the 1919 Black Sox Scandal from the collective conscious of the nation and preserved baseball as this country's national pastime. 

And if the Babe's granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, has her way, the number three that he wore on his back as a New York Yankee will be retired throughout Major League Baseball alongside Jackie Robinson's 42.

By creating a website that asks fans to sign a petition, Tosetti hopes that Commissioner Bud Selig will heed their unified voices and mothball the number three.

Tosetti claims that through promotions, such as the one in this year's Home Run Derby where David Ortiz will attempt to hit a home run to a location of a fan's choosing, Major League Baseball is "using Babe and not honoring Babe."

Beyond the youth baseball leagues that bear his moniker and preserve his legendary status, the slugger’s last name has been transformed into an adjective, Ruthian, that describes any feat that once might have been deemed Herculean. 

Lest we forget his greatness, sports aficionados tribute the slugger by pronouncing the most successful athletes of an era as the Babe Ruth of their sport.

While the Babe may well be the most dominant competitor to ever grace this earth, his gregariousness as he played with children coupled with his respectful treatment of African-Americans has been well documented as something ahead of his time.

Ruth even stood up in a period of absolute atrocity, as he signed an open letter with 49 other German-Americans denouncing Nazism while the United States government sat still.

Despite his unprecedented and still highly regarded accomplishments on the field and his contributions off of it, Ruth does not match those of Robinson.  

Just as Ruth’s name is synonymous with home runs, Jackie Robinson’s is with breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier. The man that GM Branch Rickey selected because he was strong enough to not fight back endured hatred spewed from all directions of a segregated country.

Beyond the fans and opposition that hurled insults, some of his Dodgers teammates talked of mutinying while some of those in the Negro Leagues feared he would fail.

In his first season, a time when Robinson spent much of his time dodging inside fastballs, he kept his promise to Rickey and did not retaliate.

Ruth never showed such poise. In one instance where he thought that the umpire was squeezing the strike zone, his solution involved throwing a punch at the official. The only resolution came in the form of a six game suspension.

The fight that Robinson is best known for came while he served in the military and was ordered to sit in the back of a bus. While his refusal resulted in disciplinary action, it is widely accepted that his actions, along with similar ones of other African-American soldiers, led to the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces.

During his time with the Dodgers and beyond, Robinson endured protestations of his actions in the form of racial epithets and death threats. Jackie persevered winning a Rookie of the Year Award and two seasons later was named MVP.

To many in Brooklyn, his greatest athletic achievement came as he played a pivotal role in the Dodgers finally winning the World Series after so many seasons of waiting ‘til next year.

Robinson’s massive sociological impact often overshadows how tremendous his playing career was. In The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Robinson ranks as the 32nd greatest player of all time without any consideration being given to his life outside of baseball.

Despite his impressive list of accolades in athletics, Robinson made his greatest contributions outside of Ebbets Field.

The retired second baseman spurred the development of the Freedom National Bank, a financial institution whose goal was to service African-Americans in a comfortable and secure environment.

Robinson raised his voice about civil rights each time he penned an article for his syndicated news column. In these articles he expressed his opinions, both positive and negative, about the actions of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

For his lifetime achievements, the United States government awarded Robinson with the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

To this day, people honor Jackie in myriad ways; including wearing his number on the anniversary of his MLB debut and attaching his name to significant landmarks like a rotunda at the New York Mets future home.

Without a doubt, Babe Ruth ensured that he will be one of baseball’s icons forever. While stories of his gluttony and salty nature remain as prevalent as those of his hitting and pitching prowess, Ruth does not stand as a role model.

With only the number 42 being retired throughout baseball, it stands as a symbol of the trials that Jackie Robinson endured alone for love of the game and in a quest for respect.

Sorry, Babe. While you saved a game, Jackie saved a country.