True: The Four Seasons of Jackie Robinson
“explains why the number 42 should never be worn by any baseball player ever again.”
A person’s life can be divided into four seasons. The seasons underscore human mortality. One begins in Spring and ends in Winter. Every year this occurs to everyone without exception. The greatness of the baseball player Jackie Robinson is that his life continues to be an inspiration to so many people around the world. Robinson was more than a baseball player. He was a businessman as well as a civil rights leader. He was a person who had to carry the weight of his race every time he stepped into the batter’s box or ran the base path. What he had to endure and daily confront has been captured by many writers, including Robinson himself who wrote his autobiography I Never Had It Made in 1972.
True: The Four Seasons of Jackie Robinson adds new insight into Robinson’s amazing career thanks to the excellent writing of Kostya Kennedy. The structure of the book focuses on the key determining moments in Robinson’s life. It begins with Spring 1946 in Montreal before he would play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, this is followed by Summer 1949 when Robinson’s presence would redefine major league baseball. Kennedy’s next two chapters are Autumn 1956 when Robinson is entering his declining years as a ballplayer and Winter 1972 which perhaps is the most important section of the book when Robinson is no longer a ballplayer but a noted civil rights leader.
One might say the modern civil rights movement begins with Jackie Robinson integrating baseball in 1947. To read about the racism, discrimination, and segregation he and his wife Rachel faced is gut wrenching when they went to Dodger spring training in the south. It’s a reminder of how much the state of Florida has not changed when we read or hear the news coming out of Florida today. Kennedy’s book does not ignore the key role Rachel Robinson played in supporting her husband and the hard success they both had to fight for. Kennedy’s book in its final chapter also includes information about the work the Jackie Robinson Foundation continues to do today.
As a player, Jackie Robinson played not just with confidence but with an aggressive manner that changed the game. This was always evident in the way he ran the bases and the many times he attempted to steal home base.
Kennedy describes Robinson’s baseball achievements using the analytics that have become popular today. The use of the data provides documentation of how dominant a player Robinson was during his career. It’s not just that he was the first to cross the color line but that he did it with style and amazing grace.
Kennedy’s book reveals how outspoken Robinson became after Branch Rickey’s (the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers) great experiment was proven to be a success. Jackie Robinson however had to overcome the tragedy of losing a son, seeing many of his fellow players like Gil Hodges die in early middle age. Robinson himself would die at the age of 53, succumbing to the effects of heart disease and diabetes. Kennedy can only imagine what Robinson had to deal with everyday until his death. So much depended on him not failing on the field.
How good (and popular) was Jackie Robinson? In 1947 his first season in the majors he was voted Rookie of the Year. On the streets of Brooklyn kids would imitate not only his batting stance but his distinctive pigeon-toed way of running.
In True, Kostya Kennedy weaves the stories of people (often just fans) who were influenced by Robinson and how he fought to overcome odds that might have been against him. This is why he inspired people far beyond the ballpark. Kennedy offers much overlooked details of the controversy that occurred in the 1950s when Robinson testified in Washington against political remarks made by the noted actor, singer, and race leader Paul Robeson. Much has been made about Robinson being “used by whites” to attack another Black leader in a public forum. This has placed a shadow at times over Robinson’s legacy. Kennedy’s book, however, presents the full story in detail and sets the record straight.
A good baseball book should describe and summarize baseball games. This is done by Kennedy throughout his well-researched book. The suspense of games is captured by his exceptional prose. Kennedy writes about Jackie Robinson’s last game. It’s game seven of the 1956 World Series. A series the Brooklyn Dodgers would not win against the Yankees. Here is Kennedy writing about that final out.
“You could see Jackie Robinson pausing there after the final out on that October afternoon, and looking out over the ballpark, at the fan of the infield and the white bases and the green outfield grass and the bleachers beyond. His office. The ground where he had plied his craft and defined his mission, established himself and asserted himself again and again. Robinson had the quality of being witness to his own life. You can see him there, still and thoughtful at a standing rest, solemn as a lion in a tender moment and then turning his great, thick body—the big shoulders and powerful arms, the sturdy trunk, legs thick as the thickest mattress springs, the body that had done its part to change the world—away from the field and beginning to move in his aching gait down off the field and into the dugout and on through the tunnel to the locker room, where he would talk to the newspapermen and feel the fresh disappointment of the World Series loss and then peel off his flannels, his Dodger blues, his uniform, for the last time in his life.”
What can one say or write after this? True by Kostya Kennedy explains why the number 42 should never be worn by any baseball player ever again.