30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 15: A faithful examination into the soul of Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson, second from left, the youngest of five children for Mallie and Jerry Robinson. (Photo: JackieRobinson.org)

On the annual Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball, and the unveiling of a statue at Dodger Stadium, we take this moment in the annual baseball book review series to spotlight new titles related to Robinson:

The book: “Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography: The Faith of a Boundary-Breaking Hero”
The author: Michael G. Long and Chris Lamb
The vital statistics: Westminster John Knox Press, 212 pages, $17, released March 10
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnes and Noble, at the publishers’ website

The pitch: It was the middle of the night when we stumbled upon another airing of “The Jackie Robinson Story” on Turner Classic Movies channel the other day – with an immediate reminder about how this 1950 depiction of Robinson’s life and times to that point really doesn’t hold up well in today’s world, even with Robinson starring as himself, thus the film project “42” in 2013 with Chadwick Boseman.
The scene where Robinson meets with Branch Rickey is hardly memorable, and rather forced.
But in this movie, after Robinson is asked about what he wanted to do with this opportunity to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the scene shows Rickey’s secretary dialing up Robinson’s mother at her home in Pasadena, there with Robinson’s brother, Mack, who answered the phone call.
Jackie would ask his mother Mallie what she thought he should do.
Her response: “Jackie, I don’t know was kind advice to give you, only … only there must be churches in a big town like New York. Why don’t you go find a church and talk to the minister and see what he has to say. Any time you have a real problem, listen to God.” He did just that.
In that vein, Long and Lamb try to reconstruct Robinson’s life journey through the prism of religion, spirituality and the presence of a higher power – all things Robinson would rely on as he went on the faith that what he was doing would help a much larger cause.
These notes have been struck before in many other Robinson bios and ghost-written autobiographies, but the fact that not only this, but also a second book has come out this spring that focuses on the Robinson Religion threat must both be directed from a higher power, eh?
It’s not as if Long and Lamb did a Google search for “Robinson and God,” but at times, it can feel that way. The fine line they walk here is trying to make Robinson a Ghandi-like historical figure. Was he?
Robinson attended Scott Methodist Church when growing up in Pasadena and realized it was more the fear of his mother that led him to realize “through her, I had a lot of faith in God … there’s nothing like faith in God to help a fellow who gets booted around once in a while,” he once is quoted as saying. This, from a mom who once told him the story of Adam and Eve, who were originally black but “turned pale” when God caught them eating the forbidden apple.
From that point on, God was putting Robinson to the test, a loving God who believed in equality but was the quiet driving force in his life. As much as it was a force during his baseball life, it’s documented how much it was also a force in his post-playing career, where he called his civil rights work as “hoeing with God” like a farmer trying to tend to a piece of land that was “a horrible mess” and needed work from “dawn until night tilling the soil and planting the crops.”

The book: “42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story”
The author: Ed Henry
The vital statistics: Thomas Nelson Books, 240 pages, $24.95, released April 4
Find it: At Amazon.com, at the publishers’ website

The pitch: We have to admit there is some sort of resistence to pick this one up when one of the backcover endorsements are from Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly.
“(This book) is about courage, struggle and ultimately victory over bias,” says O’Reilly, giving his Fox Channel colleague a post-worthy commentary, whether or not he even read it.
Jim Brown, the former NFL player and civil rights activist, also chimes in: “I can’t wait to read this book because …”
Yeah, we didn’t read the rest. Can’t wait to read the rest of his review until he actually reads the book.
Henry, a Fox News Channel chief national correspondent since 2011 after coming over from CNN, reports that unpublished materials from the Jackie Robinson Papers and the Branch Rickey Papers, housed in the Library of Congress, are included here as well as quoting “heavily” from an unpublished book manuscript by Robinson called “My Greatest Day,” most likely composed in 1961. Rachel Robinson donated all that to the Library of Congress.
Henry also says in the acknowledgements is he donating a portion of the book to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Fox is also heavily promoting the book.

More to know:
Other new Robinson-related books that have come out this year:
==  “Before Jackie Robinson: The Transcendent Role of Black Sporting Pioneers” by Gerald R. Gems (University of Nebraska Press, 324 pages, pages, $28)
== “Jackie Robinson” by Harvey Frommer (Taylor Trade publishing, a reissue from the 1984 original book)
== A Robinson story is included in the new “Game Worn: Baseball Treasurers from the Game’s Greatest Heroes and Moments” by Stephen Wong and Dave Grob forward by John Thorn, from October, 2016

Also:
== ESPN.com’s Jason Stark looks back on the 20 years since Jackie Robinson Day was established in the MLB.
== A 2016 piece by TheGospelCoalition.com about Robinson’s Christian roots.

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  • Michael Long

    Tom, The last thing we were trying to do was to depict Robinson as a Gandhi-like figure. Your claim is absurd, given the content of the book. In fact, we show that Robinson was anything but nonviolent. In many ways, he was closer to Malcolm X than to King. So there ain’t no fine line at all, as you claim. As for your insulting claim about Google research, check our footnotes — they’re full of primary sources from the Library of Congress and multiple media outlets. If I sound prickly, it’s because your analysis is as shallow as your writing.