By Paul C. Rosenblatt
On Sunday, May 18, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in a Major League baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. He was the starting first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers. My father took me to that game. We had been to three other Chicago Cubs games, so I had a sense of how many people typically attended a game at Wrigley Field. When we entered the park I was amazed at how many people were already there, far more than I had ever seen at a Cubs game. By the time the game started, Wrigley Field had filled beyond capacity. Not only were all seats occupied, but people were sitting on stairs everywhere. And there were crowds of people standing in the aisles and behind the last row of seats. In contrast to the previous Cubs games I attended, where the fans were overwhelmingly white, most of those in attendance were Black.
As an eight-year-old boy from the north side of Chicago, I was a loyal Cubs fan. So when Jackie Robinson came to bat the first time and almost everyone around us was standing, applauding, and cheering for him, I booed. My father was shocked by my booing, and said to me in the harsh, emphatic voice he used only when he was very upset with me, “No, no! Don’t do that!” That startled me, because I thought we had come to the game to root for the Cubs.
Why would Dad not want me to boo? At first, in my eight-year-old white kid ignorance, I thought he was concerned that my booing Jackie Robinson while sitting among thousands of Black people wasn’t safe. But during that first Jackie Robinson at bat I could see that Dad was fascinated and moved, that for him it was quite moving and important that Jackie Robinson was batting. As I thought about why in this situation I shouldn’t boo, I realized that Dad didn’t think my booing was dangerous to us. For him it didn’t fit the historical significance, meaningfulness, and desirability of Jackie Robinson playing in the big leagues. Hard stuff for eight-year-old me to think through.
But by the second time Jackie Robinson came to bat, I had changed my idea of what the right thing was to do. I didn’t boo him and instead rooted for him to get a hit. While he was at bat that second time, I glanced around at the Black people, mostly men, sitting near us. They looked so serious and focused. Jackie Robinson’s batting was clearly of enormous importance to them. That got me thinking that Dad’s upsetness with my booing was not only about how significant it was for him that Jackie Robinson was batting, but also about him feeling it was disrespectful to Black people attending the game for me to boo.
That was more than 75 years ago. I still remember that game and still cherish what I learned there about my father, big league baseball, Chicago, being Black, being white, and racism. And I think it had a lot to do with how I have lived my adult life in all sorts of good ways.
Copyright 2023 Rosenblatt