The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Jackie Robinson (page 1 of 2)

Larry Doby and the Importance of Forgettable Excellence

1951 Bowman Larry Doby

Over the years, I’ve written a lot on this blog about Jackie Robinson, who has long been one of my heroes. In 1947, Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, making it possible for African Americans to play big league baseball, and actually making baseball what it had long claimed to be—the national pastime.

Robinson was a great baseball player, and was the perfect choice as the pioneer who would integrate baseball. He was determined to succeed on the field, and his considerable skills helped. He was a good line drive hitter, a versatile fielder, and an absolute terror with his legs. His daring maneuvers on the base paths thrilled fans, and brought a new style of playing to the conservative Major League circuit. He was great off the field as well: good-looking, articulate, and poised. 

But probably, you know a lot about Jackie Robinson already, because he has gotten a lot of fanfare over the years.

You might not know as much about Larry Doby.

Larry Doby was Jackie Robinson’s American League counterpart. In July 1947, Doby broke the color barrier in the AL when he cracked the lineup for the Cleveland Indians for the first time. In his first appearance he struck out, but he would go on to have a great career of his own as a 7-time All-Star and an eventual Hall of Famer. By some measurements, he even had a better career than Robinson did.

But Robinson came first; Doby was only second. Robinson was the flashier player; Doby was more in the background. Robinson has become an honored figure, a hero to millions; Doby has been forgotten by most people.

So it goes.

But I guess the point I want to make in this post is how incredibly important the Larry Dobys of the world are. As great as Jackie Robinson was, if Larry Doby and a bunch of other African American players behind him weren’t ready to come in and prove that Robinson wasn’t a fluke, it all would have been for nothing. A lot of those players have been forgotten, but their impact and legacy lives on.

And I think about the example of Larry Doby and how it applies to other areas of life, and especially to God’s Kingdom, because when you think about all the parts of Christ’s Body, not too many people get to be Jackie Robinson. Certainly, there are a few—immensely talented, flashy, charismatic, known and admired and remembered by all—but not many.

On the other hand, there are a lot of Larry Dobys—talented in their own right, but not as flashy, not as well-known. Just committed disciples who live lives of dogged, forgettable excellence for the cause of Christ. And who change the world in the process.

Praise God for the Larry Dobys!

Daring and Determination: Essential Characteristics of Christianity

As any regular readers of The Doc File know, I am a huge fan of Jackie Robinson. In addition to being a world-class athlete, Hall of Fame baseball player, and, behind Martin Luther King Jr., the most influential player in the American Civil Rights Movement, he was also a man of great personal character.

I recently came across the photo at the top of the page of Jackie on the base paths. It’s a picture I love because I think it so well captures two of Jackie’s characteristics which were integral to his success and are also necessary in the daily life of the Christian: daring and determination.

Daring

Integrating Major League Baseball left Robinson open to constant torment and abuse. Racist fans heckled and berated him constantly, opposing managers would threaten not to play the Dodgers if Jackie was in the lineup, and baserunners from other teams would try to spike him with their cleats. None of that was a surprise—Dodgers GM Branch Rickey had warned Robinson in detail of the kind of abuse he would face if decided to take part in the “Great Experiment” and become the player to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball—but Jackie Robinson was willing to take the risk.

In addition to his daring in integrating the big leagues in the first place, Robinson was also daring in the way he played he game. Bringing the style of the Negro Leagues to Major League Baseball, Robinson was a terror on the basepaths, stealing bases, distracting pitchers, and stealing signs.

Christians need to be daring as well. To a large degree, I believe a Christian’s influence in the world is nullified when she or he refuses to be daring. Doing things that make you feel uncomfortable like sharing your faith with a friend or co-worker or taking an unpopular moral stand when others refuse to requires daring. Being willing to attempt great things that you’re not sure you are capable of doing like adopting a child or teaching a Bible class also requires daring. Attempting to fulfill the mission given to us by Christ of seeking and saving the lost requires a great deal of daring!

Author John Augustus Shedd once famously said, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” It is a great quotation! Too often, I think that Christians look at the church as a safe harbor, and because they like the safety, they fail to venture outside of its (figurative) walls. Certainly the church is a safe place, but it should be a place where Christians are equipped to engage, change, and save the world, not where they can hide from it.

It’s not “safe” out in the world, but it is where our light is most needed. Christians must be daring!

Determination

In the picture above, the look in Jackie’s eyes oozes focus and determination. On the basepaths, he was completely locked in to his psychological and physical battle with the pitcher, and was determined to defeat him.

It’s interesting—baseball really wasn’t Robinson’s best sport. In college at UCLA, Jackie lettered in four different sports. In track and field, he won the national championship in the broad jump in 1940. In football, he led the nation in punt return average in 1939 and 1940 and led UCLA in rushing, passing, total offense, scoring, and punt returns in 1940. In basketball, Robinson led the Southern Division of the Pacific Coast Conference in scoring in both 1940 and 1941. Baseball was his fourth best sport! 

Later on, after spending some time in the military during WWII, Robinson honed his baseball skills playing in the Negro Leagues, but here’s the point I’m getting at: I’m really not sure that Jackie Robinson should’ve been a Hall of Fame caliber baseball player, but he was just so determined to succeed! Robinson knew that he carried the weight of the hopes of Black America on his shoulders, and he was determined that he would not let them down. So his determination led to great success.

Christians also need to be people of determination. You can’t accidentally live a faithful Christian life—it requires the determination on a daily basis to live a life of discipleship regardless of cost or consequence.

That’s counter-intuitive for us today (especially the part about cost or consequence) because we live in a consumer culture where different products are constantly vying for our attention and loyalty—if you’re not losing enough weight on your diet, quit it and try a new one. If you don’t like your cell phone plan, drop it and switch over to a competitor. If going to church doesn’t seem to be improving the quality of your life, cut it out and try something else…when taken to the extreme, we become people devoid of commitment or determination, and, quite simply, people who give up too easily.

It is not easy to be a Christian, but Jesus never promised that it would be. Faithful discipleship requires determination!

Jackie Robinson’s ability to change the world certainly involved his natural talents and abilities, but equally if not more important were his character traits of daring and determination. If Christians, as citizens of the Kingdom of God are going to engage the world and change it for good, then we have to possess those same characteristics in abundance.

Branch Rickey’s Original Plan for Integrating Baseball

Baseball historian John Thorn has written a fascinating article on a forgotten piece of baseball history—Branch Rickey’s master plan to integrate Major League Baseball.
Of course, we know the integration of MLB through the collaborative efforts of Rickey and Jackie Robinson was an unqualified success, but it didn’t go the way Rickey originally intended:

“…Rickey had never planned for one black man to deal with all the problems [of integrating the game] alone; he had meant to announce the simultaneous signing of several others.”

You can read the rest of Thorn’s article here.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson

Last week I wrote about Jackie Robinson’s integration of Major League Baseball in 1947 and mentioned that, after Martin Luther King Jr., Robinson was the most important figure in the American Civil Rights movement.
Today, while reading an article (which I recommend, by the way) about Jackie’s widow, Rachel Robinson, I came upon this quotation about Robinson from Dr. King:

“Back in the days when integration wasn’t fashionable, he underwent the trauma and humiliation and the loneliness which comes with being a pilgrim walking the lonesome byways toward the high road of freedom. He was a sit-inner before the sit-ins, a freedom rider before the Freedom Rides.”

For more information regarding Robinson’s pioneering efforts in the field of Civil Rights, see this interesting blog post I came across.
Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King Jr. receiving honorary
Doctor of Laws degrees from Howard University in 1957.

The Best Day In Baseball History


This is an updated version of a post from last year.

Sixty-three years ago today, on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball.Robinson’s 10-year career had an unquestioned and inestimable impact on the Civil Rights movement in the United States. In the words of Princeton professor and civil rights activist Cornel West:

“More even than either Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, or Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, Jackie Robinson graphically symbolized and personified the challenge to the vicious legacy and ideology of White supremacy in American history.”

The skill and grace with which he played and the way he handled himself on and off the field forced many Americans to face difficult questions about race for the first time, and ultimately resulted in the changing of the hearts and minds of millions.

Jackie Robinson made baseball, in fact, what it had always claimed to be—the national pastime.

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