Baseball legend Frank Robinson marked the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s integration into baseball by recounting his 51-year journey in baseball during an award ceremony at Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday evening.
Robinson was honored with the Jackie Robinson Society’s Inaugural Community Recognition Award for his accomplishments in baseball and his special contributions to D.C at the ceremony.
A Hall of Fame outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, Robinson became the first black manager in Major League Baseball in 1975, and later managed the Washington Nationals during the 2005 and 2006 seasons. He was awarded a Doctor of Public Service by GW at the 2006 Commencement ceremonies.
GW’s Jackie Robinson Society was founded in 1999 and the award coincided with the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s integration of MLB.
Incoming Board of Trustees Chairman and former GW baseball player W. Russell Ramsey presented Robinson with the award, noting that the audience was “in the presence of perhaps one of the greatest baseball players of our generation.”
In his acceptance speech, Robinson shared many anecdotes of his experiences both on and off the field. He described his first meeting with Jackie Robinson, who talked with the unrelated Robinson about life outside of the game and told him to be the best person he could be on and off the field.
Robinson said that as a player and manager, all he could do was give it his best and put forth all of his heart and effort.
“That’s all I ever gave: my best. And that’s what I expected,” Robinson said. “I feel very fortunate to have been able to play this beautiful game.”
Robinson also spoke of his childhood and his hero: his mother.
“There is only one person I really looked up to and that was my mother,” he said. “I didn’t need anyone else.”
Famed sportswriter Roger Kahn, author of the baseball memoir, “The Boys of Summer,” gave the keynote address and spoke of his experiences as a sportswriter during Jackie Robinson’s era. Kahn, a friend of Jackie Robinson, discussed his first year covering the Brooklyn Dodgers for the now-defunct New York Herald Tribune in 1952.
Kahn recalled how Jackie Robinson told him he should write about discrimination. He recalled the hardships he saw his friends face, including a group of teammates who circulated petitions in an attempt to get Robinson off the team. Kahn said that Jackie Robinson once confided in him that he could not let anyone run his life or scare him off.
After sharing several personal stories of their friendship, Kahn said, “to have friends like that, makes life sweet.”
Kahn attributes his success as a sportswriter to his passion for the game.
“You have to have the heart of a fan,” he said. Kahn also said that the reason people enjoy his memoir so much is that “it’s not about people in baseball uniforms; it’s about people.”
Richard Zamoff, an associate sociology professor who teaches a class about Jackie Robinson and is the faculty adviser for the Jackie Robinson Society, was the first speaker of the night. He urged the audience to remember that Jackie Robinson was much more than an athlete; he was a “voice for human dignity.”
“(Jackie Robinson) tested the barriers of who he was and what America would let him be,” Zamoff said. “He allowed white Americans to have black idols.”
Zamoff also read an e-mail written by Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, in which she thanked the professor and the GW community for their “unique way” of sharing her husband’s accomplishments.
After the ceremony, Zamoff praised Frank Robinson.
“He is a trailblazer in his own right,” he said. “Just a really good part of the (Jackie) Robinson legacy.”