Integration Of Baseball

In 1946 Branch Rickey signed two outstanding young men to major league contracts. One of them, Carl Erskine, told me this story.

Carl was a 156 pound kid from Indiana with a lightening fastball. In his major league career he pitched three no hitters, one of which was an eleven inning game. He pitched in five World Series.

The other broke a unique record. He was Jackie Robinson the first Afro-American in the major leagues. Rickey was a founder of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes who practiced his personal Christian faith.

There were many outstanding players in the Negro League. A list of fifty was given Rickey from which to choose. He studied them carefully and noticed one who was reared by a single mother with a strong Christian faith. He was Rickey’s choice.

Both men were keenly aware of the potential difficulties that awaited the first Afro-American in the big leagues. Rickey knew a special character trait would have to be employed many times to make it work. When they met in his office Rickey pulled out his Bible and read Matthew 5: 39: “Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also.”

In summary it means to endure abuse. Jackie Robinson did it like the champion he was. His personal faith helped sustain him amid the hostility he faced. All our interpersonal conflicts could better be resolved if that same principle were employed.

There is ancient antithetical axiom from the Code of Hammurabi: “An eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Meaning, extract exact retribution. It is license to give out the same or more harsh treatment as you get. This leads to escalation of hostility. The Koran commends this conduct in Sura 2:194, “If anyone transgresses…against you, transgress likewise against them.”

If Jackie had responded in kind just one time it would have been inflammatory. Today’s athletes would do well to model his example. We all would. It would dramatically lower the tension level in our society. Murders, fights, divorces, and other conflicts would be dramatically reduced.

Instead of the Code of Hammurabi the Golden Rule would make for a more civil society: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Treat others as you would like to be treated. Speak to others as you would enjoy being spoken to. Share with others as you would enjoy them giving to you. You never see that in a sitcom.

When Rickey signed Robinson the elitist world of baseball said it was for money. Rickey’s personal papers were not released until ten years after his death. In them it was very evident his actions were based on his moral convictions.

Rickey and Robinson both endured and overcame the firestorm they called down on themselves by breaking the color barrier. They did it by employing a simple principle found in Scripture about which more people joke than practice.

Consider trying it out. The next time a flash point comes along monitor your response and employ that positive precept.