Thursday, April 19, 2007

Letters reveal part of Robinson, open world for a young fan

[Read the entire of the article and view the video and pictures here.]

By Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY

EDINA, Minn. — David Rabinovitz's law office in downtown Sheboygan, Wis., was vandalized, but it was the message in large block letters scrawled across the window that left him trembling in fear.

"Someone had spray-painted, 'Rabinovitz is bringing niggers to Sheboygan,' " says his only son, Ron.

The year was 1960.

John F. Kennedy was elected president in a narrow victory against Richard M. Nixon.
The first demonstration to protest segregated seating occurred in Greensboro, N.C., prompting sit-ins throughout the South.

The United States launched its first weather satellite.

And Ronnie Rabinovitz, 14, was rudely welcomed to the world of racism.

The motive behind the hate crime was simple. Jackie Robinson, who had received letters of admiration from Rabinovitz's father, was scheduled to spend the night at the family's home during a business trip; he later changed plans.

It didn't matter that Robinson was the former star baseball player for the Brooklyn Dodgers or that he would be inducted into Cooperstown two years later. It didn't matter that Robinson was an American hero, breaking the color barrier April 15, 1947, and becoming a pioneer in the civil rights movement.

Robinson was a black man.

Sheboygan, 60 miles north of Milwaukee, was lily-white.

"I never thought of skin color," Rabinovitz says. "It's just that there weren't any black people in town. There was a lot of bigotry. I remembered when we moved there a boy couldn't play with me anymore because I was Jewish. But kids are kids. It's parents who bring prejudice."

Robinson opened a whole new world for Rabinovitz, developing through letters an intimate friendship that defies the imagination a half-century later.

"It's a story nobody else could tell," says Rabinovitz, 61, who moved to the Minneapolis area in 1966, doing everything from selling children's clothing to being a radio DJ to supervising 125 newspaper routes. He is now a sales representative for a carton company.

"It's a beautiful story between a man and a boy," he says. "I feel like Jackie handed a baton to me to share his life with everyone I can. And I love telling it because of the impact he had on my life and, really, everyone in America. I loved that man. I don't want anyone to ever forget him."
Rabinovitz, who has 18 letters from Robinson, almost all handwritten, and nearly a dozen pictures of the two together, takes a deep breath. Closes his eyes. And unveils an extraordinary piece of his life.

[Read the rest of the article and view the video and pictures here.]

Saturday, April 14, 2007

No media circus greeted Jackie Robinson in 1947 when he made history

Courtesy of


(AP) - On a chilly, grey, early spring day, a black man in a sparkling white baseball uniform walked, alone, from the dugout onto the green grass of Brooklyn's Ebbets Field.

It was April l5, l947, and Jackie Robinson was about to break the shameful colour line in major league baseball, a feat that would have a lasting impact on sports and society.

There was a feel of history in the air overlaid, perhaps oddly, by a sense of somewhat calculated nonchalance.

I was standing by the batting cage along with a handful of other sports reporters when Robinson strode onto the field with that slightly pigeon-toed walk of the natural athlete.

About 10,000 of a crowd that would swell to almost 26,000 at the tidy old park, many of them black, had gathered well before game time. They made no special sound when Robinson appeared. No cameras flashed. Television was in its infancy, and there were no TV cameras on hand.

It was as if all of us - writers, fans and players on both teams, the Dodgers and the visiting Boston Braves - had come to an unspoken agreement to behave as though it was just another opening day at the ballpark. And, by the way, a black man played for the Dodgers.

There were good reasons for this. The writers knew that the owners of the other l5 teams in the major leagues had voted unanimously to oppose the introduction of a black player.

We knew that Branch Rickey, the Dodgers' major-domo who had signed Robinson against all opposition to a minor league contract the year before (he was the Most Valuable Player in the International League in l946), had hoped his Brooklyn players would have been impressed by Robinson's obvious talent to ask that he be added to the roster. Instead Rickey had been greeted with a petition signed by some key players - with the conspicuous exception of captain and shortstop, PeeWee Reese, a Kentuckian - that they did not want to play with a black man. We had heard rumours that at least one National League team was organizing a strike rather than play against Robinson.

It was a time in our country when in many places blacks couldn't stay at the same hotel as whites, eat in the same restaurants, attend the same movie theaters or even drink from the same water fountains in the South. They rode in the back of the bus there.

Schools were segregated in the South, where the majority of major league players had grown up. So were neighbourhoods, north and south, some by law, others by tacit agreement.

It was into this atmosphere that the black man in the dazzling white uniform strode, alone, carrying for all of us the banner of decency and dignity and fair play that is the American promise.

There is no rooting in the press box, but many of us in it that day, like Robinson, had served in the armed forces and had just helped to defeat Hitler and thought it would be a good idea to defeat Hitlerism at home.

So those of us assigned to cover the game seemed to be of one mind that to turn this day of uncommon courage into a media circus would be both unseemly and unfair.

In the Dodger clubhouse before the game we talked to Robinson one at a time, and then only after interviewing a couple of veteran players first. Robinson said he was nervous, as he always was before a big game, but he was sure the feeling would wear off when the game started. He said he had been made to feel welcome by his new teammates, which may or may not have been true.

On the field Robinson was carrying, somewhat awkwardly, an unfamiliar first baseman's mitt. A middle infielder by trade, he played first for the Dodgers that season.

Robinson glanced around for a few seconds, then picked up a baseball and began playing catch with a utility outfielder named Al Gionfriddo, who would make one of the most famous catches in World Series history that fall, and then disappear from the major leagues.

The PA announcer read the lineups in a matter-of-fact tone. This was before the hysterical homers took over the PA mikes, and the PA system at Ebbets Field never worked properly anyway.

Robinson, batting second, was thrown out by a whisker at first on his first time at bat. He went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice on the day. He reached base in the seventh on an error and scored on Pete Reiser's two-run double.

The Dodgers won, 5-3.

After the game a half dozen or so writers combed the Dodger clubhouse, making a point to talk to several players. Robinson said he went hitless not because of the pressure, but "because Johnny Sain was pitching." Sain was the Boston ace.

I gave the dressing room quotes to Joe Reichler, the AP's baseball writer, who led his story with the result of the game. So did many others.

Some years ago I traded letters about Robinson's first game with Jack Lang, longtime secretary of the Baseball Writers Association. He reminded me that there were nine mainstream daily newspapers in New York then, and not one of them led its game story with Robinson.

This approach persisted for some time. In late December I wrote the wrap-up of the sports year for AP. I relegated Robinson's achievement to the 11th paragraph of a very long story, although when I got to him I pulled out all the stops. Robinson had been named Rookie of the Year, and the Dodgers had won the National League pennant, one of six they would win with Robinson.
I drew the assignment to assist Reichler on Robinson's first day because I had grown up in Los Angeles and had watched Robinson play all sports for UCLA. Robinson was the greatest all-around athlete I ever saw.

In his senior year, 1940-41, he led the nation in yards per carry and was a ferocious defender on the football field. He also led the conference in scoring in basketball, played baseball, ran the sprints, broke the NCAA long jump record set by his older brother Matt (second to Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Olympics), was a scratch golfer and won two tennis tournaments.

When he left UCLA, the door to all pro sports were closed to him, so he went to Hawaii and played for the Honolulu Bears, one of four teams in a semi-pro league there. He left by ship for the mainland on Dec. 5, 1941, two days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Robinson served as an Army lieutenant during the war, and then came Rickey and his banner season with the Montreal Royals.

Robinson had agreed with Rickey to hold his fiery temper and natural competitiveness in check, to endure the racial taunts from fans and opposing players. When the wraps came off and he was free to argue with the umpires and return with interest the foul bench jockeying, Robinson told me: "I can hardly wait for an umpire to throw me out of a game." In other words, to treat him like everybody else.

But there was, there is, no way to treat Jackie Robinson like everybody else. His victory was his victory. Alone. His defeat would have been our defeat. All of us. He did not lose.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Major League Baseball to Celebrate Jackie Robinson Day

Major League Baseball to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day
with on-field tributes and celebrations

04/13/2007 1:33 PM ET

Major League Baseball's league-wide 60th anniversary celebration of Jackie Robinson's Major League debut, to be held this Sunday, will include festivities at each of the 15 games throughout Major League Baseball, a VIP and celebrity-filled national celebration at Dodger Stadium, all Major League players wearing a Number 42 decal on their helmets, as well as additional in-stadium and out-of-stadium elements on Jackie Robinson Day, now in its fourth year.

The pregame celebration at Dodger Stadium will begin with a video tribute to Jackie Robinson followed by an "Ode to Jackie" reading by celebrities, including Courtney B. Vance, Marlon Wayans and Angela Bassett. The Brookinaires Gospel Choir from The First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest black church in Los Angeles, will perform "Oh Happy Day," which was one of Robinson's favorite songs.

Academy Award® winner Jennifer Hudson will perform the U.S. National Anthem prior to the start of the game. Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson will throw out the ceremonial first pitches. In addition, the Dodgers will unveil two 63-foot tall murals of Jackie Robinson on the exterior of Dodger Stadium, and the DodgerVision screen will run features about Jackie in between innings throughout the game.

All Major League Baseball players will honor the legacy of Jackie Robinson on Sunday by wearing a decal featuring his uniform Number 42 on their helmets. Numerous members of Major League Clubs will also wear jerseys bearing Number 42. During the Padres-Dodgers game, the entire roster of Los Angeles Dodgers players will pay tribute to Robinson by wearing Number 42, as will Mike Cameron of the San Diego Padres., the official website of Major League Baseball, will have the Number 42 as background on its homepage, which is the first time a player's number has been used in this way.
All behind-the-plate signage shown during the national game telecast will pay tribute to Jackie Robinson, with inventory having been donated by Major League Baseball, ESPN and MLB sponsors Bank of America, Budweiser, Chevrolet, Gatorade, MasterCard, Sharp and Taco Bell.

Throughout the league, the 60th anniversary will be filled with events that recognize Robinson's impact on the game. The pre-game ceremony and game will be broadcast live on ESPN, ESPN HD, ESPN Radio and ESPN Deportes at 8 p.m. (EDT), and will also be carried on XM Satellite Radio. Among those participating in the festivities will be Rachel Robinson, Jackie's wife and founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation; their daughter, author Sharon Robinson; their son, David Robinson; several of Jackie's former teammates; baseball executives and civic and industry leaders; Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholars; and winners of the 2007 Breaking Barriers Essay Contest.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Dodgers to Celebrate Jackie Robinson

04/05/2007 2:21 AM ET
By Ken Gurnick /
MILWAUKEE -- After extensive deliberations, the Dodgers decided to have their entire team wear uniform No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day in tribute to the late Hall of Famer who broke baseball's color barrier while wearing Dodger Blue.

"Jackie Robinson was a Dodger and the most fitting tribute the Dodgers can pay to him is for the entire team to wear his number on the 60th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier," said Dodgers President and Vice Chairman Jamie McCourt.

MLB will celebrate the 60th anniversary of Robinson's first game on April 15. A day earlier, Dodgers Juan Pierre and Marlon Anderson will conduct a clinic at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton.

"That'll be a good deal," said Pierre. "This is a good tribute, a good way to honor Jackie Robinson, to wear the same uniform he wore."

The Dodgers will host the Padres in a 5:05 p.m. game that day.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Patrick Reusse: Koskie confronts injury, ignorance

The ex-Twin is reeling from postconcussion syndrome, a little-understood ailment.
By Patrick Reusse, Star Tribune

Corey Koskie's circle of acquaintances has increased substantially since he took a fall chasing a fly ball last July 5 in Milwaukee's Miller Park and wound up with postconcussion syndrome. Two more people were added to the group when he went through the mail forwarded to him by his team, the Milwaukee Brewers.

Koskie, a former Twins third baseman who left as a free agent after the 2004 season, said: "The letter was from a woman in Wisconsin with a teenage daughter who has postconcussion syndrome. I could sense the emotion, almost desperation, in the letter."

Koskie contacted the woman and heard of the daughter's year of anguish -- of mystery -- since she was kicked in the head in a soccer game.

"When she told me what her daughter had experienced, it was like I was hearing my own story," he said.

Koskie didn't want to use names because the mother and daughter already have gone through more than enough skepticism in their hometown. What he did relay was his most recent conversation with the mother.

"She called me and was crying," Koskie said.

"She had been listening to a sports talk show out of Milwaukee," Koskie continued. "They were talking about the Brewers and one of the people on the show -- I don't know who -- said, 'Who do you want at third base -- Craig Counsell or the guy who's home with a headache?' "

To mom, this was more evidence of the public's flippant attitude toward concussions and their impact on athletes, professional or youthful.

"The daughter has had teachers suggesting the concussion is an excuse not to do homework," Koskie said. "The amazing thing about this injury is the public's knowledge is so limited. There's no surgery, no cast. You look fine. People see you and say, 'You look good. You look ready to go.' "
Koskie returned to his Plymouth home this week after spending a futile month in Arizona in the Brewers' spring training camp.

"You get to the ballpark early, you're one of the guys, in on the conversation, the joking," he said. "Everything seems normal. Then, your teammates go to the field, and you go to the next room and ride the [stationary] bike. And you hope to get through 15, 20 minutes without having the symptoms come back.

"We finally agreed that being down there wasn't helping me or the Brewers. I came home with orders to rest. ...

"The good news is my brain injury is starting to heal. We know that."

Koskie was chasing a looping fly ball that day in Miller Park. "My only chance to catch it was to put my head down and run to the spot," he said. "When I got there and looked, the ball was behind me. So, I bent back and reached, caught the ball, and hit the ground."

Koskie crashed onto his back. His head didn't clearly slam to the ground, but his neck whiplashed. The ball popped from his glove and Bill Hall caught it for the half-inning's final out.
"I thought I was OK, but when I went up to hit, the pitcher was out there somewhere ... like he was behind a TV screen," Koskie said. "I felt nauseous. I was woozy. I slapped at a couple of pitches and fouled them. I got to a 3-2 count and remember thinking, 'What happens if I draw a walk here and have to run the bases? I won't be able to do it.'

"As it turned out, I struck out. And when I got the dugout, I told the trainer, 'This isn't going to work,' and left the game. I assumed I would be back in the lineup the next day."

It has been 289 days and Koskie has not played an inning of baseball. A few days after the injury, the Brewers flew him to Phoenix to play against the Diamondbacks. He didn't make it through the pregame session before all the symptoms returned:

Nausea, fatigue, a feeling of pressure in his head and a disconnect from what was happening around him. "When I'm having a bad day, it's like everyone is behind a window," he said.
A month after the injury, Koskie visited Dr. Michael Collins, a neuropsychologist in Pittsburgh. Collins has been deeply involved with the ImPACT program, a test that can provide solid information on the damage done to the brain by concussions and the recovery process from post-concussion syndrome.

"Once I saw Dr. Collins, I started to understand what I was going through," Koskie said. "He told me then, is still telling me, 'What you're feeling is real, Corey.' "

Koskie has recommended contacting Collins to the many people who have reached him with stories of their postconcussion cases. He arranged for the mother and teenage daughter from Wisconsin to talk with Collins and to take the test.

Collins and his partners have given the computerized test to enough people to develop baselines for age groups. Koskie's first test for males in their 30s had these disturbing results:

He was in the second percentile for intelligence, third percentile for cognitive ability, 14th percentile for reaction time.

"I said to Dr. Collins, 'Maybe I'm just that stupid ... that 98 percent of the people taking the test are smarter than me,' " Koskie said. "He said, 'Corey, you're a high school graduate. Believe me, you're not in the bottom 2 percent. And you're a pro athlete. Eighty-six percent of the people taking the test aren't supposed to have better reactions than someone who has played third base for eight years in the big leagues.' "

Collins and Koskie know his brain is healing, because he's in the 60-70 percentiles for intelligence and cognitive ability now, and in the high 80s in reaction.

"I've talked to [San Francisco Giants catcher] Mike Matheny quite a few times," Koskie said. "He couldn't come back from his latest concussion last year and decided to retire. The reason is that his ImPACT test scores haven't been getting any better."

The Koskies (Corey and Shannon) have three sons from 18 months to 6 years old. He hasn't been able to do the usual rolling around the floor with his sons since last July. He even had to leave a couple of oldest son Bradley's hockey games this winter because the bright lights of the arena would trigger some of his symptoms.

"There are good days and bad days," Koskie said. "When people see you and say, 'You look great,' they don't realize they are seeing you on a good day. They don't know that you might spend most of the next three, four days, lying down, holding your head, wondering when you're going to feel normal again.

"I'm going to play again, though. I'm sure of that. If I wasn't, I would have a lot more depression to deal with."

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. •