Considered the “father of baseball” by many, Alexander Cartwright was born on April 17, 1820 in New York City. Cartwright would go on to codify the first set of written baseball rules, known as the “Knickerbocker Rules” or the “Cartwright Rules,” for the game as we know it today. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938.
Here is another poem by John Updike, simply titled “Baseball.” I love the comparison of the game to the realities of American society.
It looks easy from a distance,
easy and lazy, even,
until you stand up to the plate
and see the fastball sailing inside,
an inch from your chin,
or circle in the outfield
straining to get a bead
on a small black dot
a city block or more high,
a dark star that could fall
on your head like a leaden meteor.
The grass, the dirt, the deadly hops
between your feet and overeager glove:
football can be learned,
and basketball finessed, but
there is no hiding from baseball
the fact that some are chosen
and some are not—those whose mitts
feel too left-handed,
who are scared at third base
of the pulled line drive,
and at first base are scared
of the shortstop’s wild throw
that stretches you out like a gutted deer.
There is nowhere to hide when the ball’s
spotlight swivels your way,
and the chatter around you falls still,
and the mothers on the sidelines,
your own among them, hold their breaths,
and you whiff on a terrible pitch
or in the infield achieve
something with the ball so
ridiculous you blush for years.
It’s easy to do. Baseball was
invented in America, where beneath
the good cheer and sly jazz the chance
of failure is everybody’s right,
beginning with baseball.
As the 105th day of the Gregorian calendar, April 15 brings with it a sense of apprehension and urgency for many United States residents. On this day, Tax Day, Americans must submit their individual federal tax returns or file for an extension. Stories of long lines at the post office will flood the news as procrastinators rush to avoid penalty for their negligence. But April 15 serves as more than just a deadline.
The ancient Romans observed the Fordicidia on April 15, a festival of fertility involving the sacrifice of a pregnant cow. On an international scale, World Art Day, first celebrated in 2012, promotes the appreciation of art and creativity. In the world of Major League Baseball, we celebrate Jackie Robinson Day.
Jackie Robinson played his first Major League game with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, making him the first black Major League ballplayer of the modern era. To this day, we celebrate the courage and resilience it took to step out on that field and endure a season full of mixed feelings, ranging from hopeful excitement, to cautious tolerance, to unadulterated hatred. While a myriad of books and movies strive to depict the tumultuous circumstances Robinson bore that day and that season, nothing could ever fully capture the turmoil felt by Robinson himself.
Imagine, for a moment, stepping out on a Major League baseball diamond for the first time. Your spouse sits in the stands, perhaps alongside a small group of other friends and family. Aside from them and your teammates, most people in that stadium have never seen or met you before. In spite of this, you brace yourself against the inevitable slings and arrows of abuse you inevitably know to expect, because to some people, your physical appearance means more than the years of hard work and the uncanny ability you have shown on the field.
Newspapers have written about you, scrutinizing your abilities, your resolve, your motivations. You have made headlines in the past, being arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus. Your temper, short and explosive, has created a reputation that precedes your person.
Your heart pounds violently as your cleats puncture the grass of the infield. Internally, your emotions vacillate between stubborn pride and a vague sense of fear and foreboding that you attempt to ignore. You try to keep your steps light, in spite of the heaviness of the burden on your shoulders and the weight of thousands of eyes staring directly at you. You make an effort to clear your mind and allow your baseball instincts to take over your actions, but you cannot disregard the staggering pressure to perform.
Jackie Robinson not only overcame this pressure, he did so in a way that, sixty-seven years later, we continue to remember and celebrate his influence upon the baseball world. In 1997, baseball
commissioner Bud Selig mandated the retirement of number 42 across all of Major League Baseball. As a tribute to Robinson, however, every player across all thirty Major League teams will wear 42 during today’s games.
Prior to this evening’s Yankees-Cubs match-up in New York, members of Robinson’s family, Bud Selig, and members of the Steinbrenner family are expected to attend festivities at Yankees Stadium. Fittingly, as part of the event, the Yankees plan to unveil a plaque honoring Nelson Mandela, the late South African president who stood against apartheid.
In addition to the main event in the Bronx, teams across baseball will have their own methods for celebrating Robinson’s legacy. In Minnesota, for example, the Twins have dubbed this Celebrate Diversity Day. In Chicago, the White Sox will host a panel titled “Jackie Robinson: A Catalyst for Change in American Society,” in which White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, executive vice president Kenny Williams, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and historian Carol Adams will present their views on Robinson’s impact. And these are just a handful out of many examples.
At the end of the day, however, all of our tributes and celebrations will never provide us with the perspective to fully comprehend and appreciate what Robinson, himself, experienced in 1947. That experience will forever stay with Robinson alone. No doubt, his legacy remains more than deserving of all the honors we bestow upon his memory, but until the end of baseball history, there can only ever be one Jackie Robinson.
William Howard Taft became the first United States President to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on April 14, 1910 at American League Park in Washington, D.C. Once the official game started, pitcher Walter Johnson one-hit the A’s, leading the Senators to a 3-0 victory in their season opener. President Taft stayed on hand to watch the events of the impressive performance unfold.
I never threw an illegal pitch. The trouble is, once in a while I toss one that ain’t never been seen by this generation.
The San Diego Padres occupy the next spot in our lineup of “Talkin’ Baseball” songs. On a personal note, while I root for the Royals today, my older brother pulls for the Padres, and so talk of Tony Gwynn, Fred McGriff, and Gary Sheffield permeate memories of my earliest introduction to Major League Baseball. Backyard baseball meant emulating Gwynn’s swing in an effort to knock the ball over the fence. Ah, nostalgia.
To see all “Talkin’ Baseball” videos, click here.
On April 10, 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey issued a press statement during the sixth inning of an exhibition game against their minor league affiliate, the Montreal Royals. The statement read: “The Brooklyn Dodgers today purchased the contract of Jackie Roosevelt Robinson from the Montreal Royals. He will report immediately.”