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See terms and learn more at discover.com slash online privacy protection. And we continue with our American stories and up next, another story from Bob Kendrick. Today, Bob shares with us a story that started in Kansas City, made its way to Brooklyn, and then became a phenomenon nationwide. And we're telling this story because on this day in 1972, Jackie Robinson died.
Take it away, Bob. Many of the great changes that occurred in our society occurred as a result of Jackie Robinson's breaking of Major League Baseball's color barrier. Well, Jackie Robinson's illustrious professional baseball career began right here in Kansas City, 1945.
I think people think that Jackie just walked out of nowhere and started playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but his real rookie season was here in Kansas City, 1945. And the three months, because he didn't play a full year, but the three months that he played here in Kansas City, he fell in love with everything that Kansas City is famous for. Barbecue and jazz. He liked the ribs at a place called Old Kentucky Barbecue. Old Kentucky Barbecue would become the forerunner of the Great Gates Barbecue chain of restaurants that are world renowned to this day.
And while New Orleans may lay claim to jazz, it was Kansas City that gave jazz its soul. And by the end of that 45 season, Jackie had literally disappeared. His teammates had no idea where he was. Well, as we know, he had been summoned away to meet Branch Rickey. And the two of them would meet there in Brooklyn and make the epic decision that Jackie Robinson would become baseball's chosen one. The man that would break Major League Baseball's six decade long self-imposed color barrier. Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier was not only a part of the civil rights movement, it was the beginning of the civil rights movement in this country. This is 1947. So this is before Brown versus the Board of Education. This is before Rosa Parks refusal to move to the back of the bus. As my dear friend the late great Buck O'Neill would so eloquently say, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was merely a sophomore at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia when Jackie signed his contract to play in the Dodgers organization.
Our very own President Truman would not integrate the armed forces until a year after Jackie. So for all intents and purposes, this is what started the ball of social progress rolling in our country. Baseball. And our country jumped on the coattail of baseball. And so it was the great city of Kansas City and the Negro Leagues that gave America arguably its greatest hero in Jackie Robinson. And baseball was Jackie Robinson's weakest sport. He was a much better basketball, football, track athlete than he was baseball player and some say an even better tennis player. And so people will say, well was he the best player in the Negro Leagues?
No. He was the right player in the Negro Leagues. Baseball was his weakest sport. So there were other Negro Leaguers who were far superior baseball players to Jackie Robinson and that's not to disparage Jackie Robinson because Jackie Robinson is one of the greatest athletes in American history. There was nothing that Jackie couldn't do. This just speaks simply to the immense talent that was there in the Negro Leagues and these were veteran ball players who had been playing the game of baseball much longer than Jackie had.
Jackie was relatively new to the game of baseball. He had played at UCLA and then he continued to play while he was serving in the U.S. Army. Little bitty Fort Riley, Kansas, he was stationed there and you know who was with him? The heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Joe Lewis. And it would beat Joe Lewis who would help get Jackie Robinson into officer school. Fort Riley wasn't admitting blacks into his officer school program at that time. And Joe Lewis who had been doing exhibition prize fights to help raise money for the armed forces called in some favors and that's how Jackie gets into officer school. Jackie then moves over to Fort Hood in Texas where he was court-martialed for refusing to give up his seat to a white officer on the bus. And so for Jackie Robinson to take the abuse that he took, this was totally out of character for him. Jackie Robinson was as fiery and feisty an individual as you will ever meet. I think there is this belief that Ricky wanted somebody who wouldn't fight back and he absolutely needed someone who wouldn't fight back. But the fact that Jackie wouldn't fight back has nothing to do with the fact that Jackie wasn't a fierce competitor and very fiery personality. He humbled himself for the greater good. As I said, this is totally out of character for Jackie. As Buck O'Neil would say, Jackie Robinson could duke and would duke.
He'd knock you on your rump. But again, he humbled himself for the greater good. And so Jackie's story is so prolific in so many ways. So no, he wasn't the best player in the Negro Leagues, but he was the right player. Because you have to understand that the first guy cannot fail. The first guy fails, there is no second guy.
And so there was an immense amount of pressure on getting this right. So Branch Rickey had what I call a double difficult task of identifying the right guy. Because if Jackie Robinson cannot take the abuse, the experiment is over.
If he can't play, the experiment is over. It could have been another 10, 15, 20 years or more before another black man would have gotten an opportunity to play in the major leagues. Think about it. If it's 20 years later, think about the great stars we would have missed. We would have missed Willie Mays. We would have missed Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson. Can you imagine our great sport without those great stars?
And if you can, you can imagine what it was like before 1947. Because they didn't learn how to play baseball after 1947. And so had the doors opened sooner, there is no question that the record books would be entirely different. But even more so, our sport would have been that much better. Because we saw instantly what happened after 1947, when all of a sudden this black and brown talent could now flow into the major leagues.
What happens? Our game got better. And a special thanks to Monty Montgomery for the production and Katrina Heine for sending this story to us. Also, a very special thanks to Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. What a story. Jackie's career starts in 1945 in Kansas City.
He falls in love with jazz and barbecue like anyone who would spend some time there at the time. It wasn't until 1947, though, that, well, history changes in America. And Bob was right. It wasn't a part of the civil rights movement, what happened in Brooklyn and Ebbets Field.
It was the beginning of the civil rights movement. And imagine that this was his weakest sport, Jackie Robinson. We all laughed when we heard that. He was the first guy. So he had to be the right guy. And Branch Rickey picked the right guy, because if the first guy failed, there's no second guy. And it was a double whammy on Jackie. He had to be able to take the abuse.
And at the same time, he had to be able to play. And my goodness, he met both of those standards, exceeded them, and changed American history. Brown v. Board would come after. The integration of the Army would come after. This was the beginning of the civil rights movement.
The story of Jackie Robinson, who died on this day in 1972, here on Our American Stories. When the world gets in the way of your music, try the new Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, next-gen earbuds uniquely tuned to the shape of your ears. They use exclusive Bose technology that personalizes the audio performance to fit you, delivering the world's best noise cancellation and powerfully immersive sound, so you can hear and feel every detail of the music you love. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, sound shape to you.
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