Non-Fiction: Sports

What I Learned from Jackie Robinson

A Teammate's Reflections On and Off the Field

Written by: Carl Erskine with Burton Rocks

Published By: McGraw-Hill

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                Iím a huge fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Yeah, I know, the Dodgers left Brooklyn long before I was born, but that doesnít mean that I canít admire the team that was one of New Yorkís greatest baseball teams in history.  Some say that the fact that Iím a New York Mets fan must have something to do with my loving the Brooklyn Dodgers.  After all, the Dodgers were the working classí baseball team Ė the hometown underdog heroes.  I suppose that would have something to do with it.  But I also know that, had I been born earlier, I would have been a Dodgersí fan simply because this was a hard playing team filled with men who simply loved the game.  Thatís what I respect the most about that team Ėthey wanted to play.  They werenít out to set records, although some of them did.  They tried their hardest to win pennants, but only out of competitive nature and not to see how much money they could get out of the game.

                Iím also a big fan of the team for what it did for major league baseball and the world by introducing black players to the big leagues.  Jackie Robinson was chosen to be the pioneer by Branch Rickey and the rest is history.  When I saw the book What I Learned from Jackie Robinson written by fellow teammate Carl Erskine featured on the bargain shelves at Barnes and Noble, I just had to check it out.

                What I Learned from Jackie Robinson is a teammateís reflection on the importance of Jackie Robinson as both a player on the field and as a man off of the field.  The book begins with a forward by another fellow Dodger, Duke Snider, who briefly discusses the story that both Erskine and Robinson shared Ė the need to overcome prejudices against themselves and their families.

                In this book, Carl Erskine tells us how, by watching Jackie Robinsonís example, he was able to face prejudices against his son, Jimmy, who was born with Down Sydrome.  Having watched Jackie Robinsonís grace both on and off the field in the face of terrible adversity, Erskine learned how to cope with the adversities facing his son.  It was Robinsonís struggle to push the civil rights movement forward and to new heights that gave Erskine the inspiration to do the same for his son.  Erskine credits the advances made by Robinson and others like him with the heights of advancement his son was able to attain Ė going to school, holding a good job and competing in the Special Olympics.  Erskine learned from his fellow player and good friend that there was no goal you couldnít reach without courage and persistence.

                To read What I Learned from Jackie Robinson is to delve into the memoirs of Carl Erskine Ė his feelings about the team, his teammates and friends, the neighborhood and the stadium.  We learn something about the civil rights movement from Erskine having witnessed Jackie Robinsonís role in it.  Erskine believes that baseball, in its own way, was more accepting than society when it came to integration and cites the different examples that prove his point.  We also learn that one man can make a profound difference in another manís life without even trying.  Erskine so admired Robinson that he was able to learn from him the many skills that he would need in his future fight for his sonís rights.

                What I Learned from Jackie Robinson is a must read for any Brooklyn Dodgers fan, especially Jackie Robinson fans.  Jackie Robinson was a great man with great pride and powerful ambition to push the civil rights movement forward to create equality for all.  Carl Erskine, through his son, sought to carry out Robinsonís fight for civil rights to include those born with disabilities as well.  This is an important piece of literature about baseball as well as civil rights that I think everyone could learn something from. 


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