When you tell someone it’s April 15, depending on his or her age and likes, and what’s in the Netflix queue, the immediate understanding of that particular day varies.
To some, mostly those who don’t feed from the dependent spoon, April 15 usually triggers thoughts of a finger-crippling math-crunch (with calculations more questionable than a lunch spread at Chipotle), followed by the frantic venture to the post office to get that coveted “Certified Mail” stamp, signaling that your damn taxes are completed…and not late by a second, Sam.
The younger generation might give you a numeric gasp, proclaiming how many days are left in the school year.
Chances are, it’s someone’s birthday.
An anniversary might fall on that day.
Perhaps it was the first time you had a jelly doughnut.
Most likely, the general reply to “Hey, it’s April 15!” would be something like: Yeah, before you know it, it’ll be September. Then Christmas. The conversation would end with a nod in agreement, a look back down at the cellphone, and then an exit strategy. And that’s perfectly acceptable.
But April 15 is special. It’s a part of Americana—the original, O.G. Americana, along with the hot dog and the apple pie. To the baseball world—and possibly to the entire Galactic Sports and Talking Heads of Sports Universe—it is one of the most celebrated days in the game.
It’s Jackie Robinson Day. The man who changed not only the face of the MLB but also the sports landscape, did so on April 15, 1947. It’s an amazing tale, and one worth discovering, or re-discovering, every year.
This year, for me, almost seven decades later, the re-discovery was…different. While I was researching some of the more incredible aspects of the legendary man, I came across something else: Actually, April 15 might be special to a whole different group of people, for a whole different, random, kind of weird…some understandable…but mostly weird reasons.
There are nine.
Yeah, this guy:
National Glazed Spiral Ham Day
National Griper’s Day
National Rubber Eraser Day
National That Sucks Day
Take a Wild Guess Day
World Art Day
Income Tax Pay Day
Titanic Remembrance Day
Yes, all of those holidays are…well, real holidays, all landing on April 15, and probably recognized by more people than you think. (I mean, anything with Leo, right?!?)
The discovery changed me. Not like puberty change. More like Jim Carrey in Me, Myself & Irene change. I fell into an Inter-webs precipice, a black hole spinning with pictures of Loni Anderson, The Duke (the one from Major League; not John Wayne) apple turnover recipes, old paintings, Gary Redus baseball cards, and Jackie Earl Haley and Filet-O-Fishes. It was nuts. When I came out of it, through the numbness and drool, I noticed that I had produced something, a string-together of words, and I couldn’t quite understand it.
But I decided to publish it anyway, because yes to the internet and its fruits.
It’s called The Story of Jackie Robinson…as it Relates to:
Before McDonald’s was Lovin’ It
Around the same time McDonald’s was opening, a member of the men’s UCLA track team won the long jump in the 1940 NCAA Men’s Track and Field championships. His name was Jackie Robinson. Oddly enough, he sucked at baseball at the time, but all that changes. Trust me.
As McDonald’s morphed from a BBQ chain in San Bernardino, California, to the burger behemoth we know today, Jackie Robinson morphed into a pretty darn good ballplayer—after a stint in the semi-professional football world, where he perfected the meticulous art of knitting (kidding; just wanted make sure you didn’t fall asleep).
Eventually, Robinson latched onto a team in the Negro Leagues called the Kansas City Monarchs. And he was good—though he wasn’t really down with all the theatrics of the day. But, again, he was good.
Then, sometime in the middle of the decade, while Maurice and Richard McDonald started to work on an idea that would change America, Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, began to work on a different idea that would also change America.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson stepped onto a major league field, breaking the color barrier in major league baseball.
By 1948 McDonald’s had perfected the fast food service, with families marveling at the speed, while Jackie Robinson was one year in to his MLB career, following his unbelievable ’47 season (Rookie of the Year). One of the things he was known for: Yep. His speed.
National Glazed Spiral Ham Day…Folk
You people are crazy. But I understand the delight in that succulent swine, spiraling off the bone like…oh man…a meaty jazz ribbon…so scrumptious.
Things weren’t easy for Robinson—as most of us this day and age couldn’t even imagine— and some expected the man to unravel much like your celebrated ham. But unravel, he did not; it was the strength that Branch Rickey saw in him in the first place.
But the complaining and name-calling kept on coming…
National Griper’s Day, You Know What I mean
Lump in the Spiral Ham people with you guys, back in the ’40s and ’50s, and you have a pig in shit: Happy as hell to be complaining about anything involving Jackie Robinson. Around every turn, every dugout, home game or away game, Robinson faced a constant barrage of verbal abuse. He kept on playing hard, though, through all of the racial slurs and threats (from opposing players, teammates and spectators), eventually earning the respect of, at least, his fellow Dodgers.
Slowly, his story was being etched in to the proverbially general history books.
National Rubber Eraser Day People, Give Me an Eraser
Jackie Robinson: the great shortstop, coming from the Negro League, making his way through the minors and landing in Brooklyn.
Well, no. Not exactly.
While in the minor leagues (Montreal Royals), Robinson was moved from shortstop to second base, where the throw to first was a tad bit easier. (This is something you see a lot in baseball, but back then, in Robinson’s case, it was a hard arguing point for him to be exiled on Chuck Knoblauch Island.)
So, it was Jackie Robinson: the great second baseman, making the necessary changes, as sports sometimes forces you to do, working his way through the minors and landing in Brooklyn.
Well, no. Not exactly.
The Dodgers already had a second baseman during the 1947 season, so there needed to be some maneuvering with Robinson. To get him in the lineup, he was moved to first base…and he stayed there for the year.
With Robinson’s success, relying a lot on that pure athletic ability people saw while he was at UCLA, and the willingness of owners to follow the trend, it would only be a matter of months before more black ballplayers would get their chance in the MLB.
National That Sucks Day People, You Know What’s Up
Where to even begin, gang…
Um, the constant racism would probably be a solid starting point. The facts and re-telling of stories about Robinson are brutal. Racism of that time sucked—though I’m saying that as a white dude born in 1980, blogging from an undisclosed location, so far removed from that era I’d be better off writing a seventy-page manifesto on the pains of pregnancy.
What the hell do I know?
Would I have been part of the problem?
I regress—but think about that.
While Robinson and other black baseball players broke the color barrier, Josh Gibson never did (look him up). And I’m no historian, but I imagine there were more players than just Gibson who missed their chance. There were tryouts held for black players, in Boston, that turned out to be nothing more than political appeasement.
Don’t forget the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” For all of Robinson’ success, the ultimate jewel—winning it all—eluded him and the Dodgers like a red-handed delinquent. Besides Bobby Thomson (the man who fired the “shot”), there were teams like the Yankees that also had their go at letting the proverbial air out of Brooklyn. And as years went by, Robinson lost a step, along with his everyday gig at second base, ending his run by platooning where the team could find space.
Maybe it sucked that Robinson was already 28 when he played his first game as a Brooklyn Dodger—kind of a cause and effect of the aforementioned.
Once Branch Rickey left the organization, with Walter O’Malley in full control, things only started to suck a bit more.
And that just sucks.
Hold your horses, though! Take a wild guess what happened next?
Take a Wild Guess Folk, This is for You
Just when you would think all was lost, and Robinson would finish his career as a championship-less bloke, the Brooklyn Dodgers put together a run and beat the Yankees and Derek Jeter (kidding; still checking on the sleep thing) in the 1955 World Series.
All was great. Hail Jackie Robinson!
Sure, it was Robinson’s worst year, statistically, but the man went out a winner. The man won a championship!
What say you, Dan Marino?
Two years after the championship, Jackie Robinson, the man who looked baseball’s racism in the eye and said Let’s Do It! (without the need of a Swoosh or commercial agent), the man who broke the color barrier and changed the history of the MLB, retired.
In 1962, Jackie Robinson was elected into the Hall of Fame. Some ten years later, on October 24, 1972, at age 53, Jackie Robinson died.
He went out a legend.
- .311 career batting average, a .409 career on-base percentage, a .474 slugging percentage.
- Averaged over 100 runs a season.
- 740 walks to ONLY 291 strikeouts
- 197 steals.
- 132 OPS+ (for the stat-obsessed).
- 1382 games.
- 5804 plate appearances.
And where was I on April 15, beginning to think about all of this (before my spiral into the http://www.unknown)?
World Art Day
It’s a masterpiece, right?
I’ve been to a few ballparks across this great land, north and south, east and west, yet there is something truly magical about sitting in Chavez Ravine, Dodger Stadium, right as the sun goes down. To that, it’s even more special when you happen to be sitting in Chavez Ravine, when the sun goes down, on Jackie Robinson Day. Add in Vin Scully on the PA, remembering the Dodger great in-person, and you have something so amazing it’s almost like you’re in a grand baseball fairy tale.
Like a movie.
Here’s the poster:
About five hours after I started this ramble, with all the crazy discoveries, the nine other holidays/remembrances, I thought about that movie. No, not that one, the other one…the one with the boat.
Titanic Remembrance Day
Look, no sane person would attempt to compare a man—of any color—getting to play baseball with a tragedy that took over 1500 lives. But, like it or not, both instances have had several movies made about them.
There was Jack…
And there was Jackie…
(This is when my confusion stopped.)
(I closed my computer.)
(I made a mad dash to the post office to get the “Certified Mail” stamp.)