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Collection Connections

By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s

U.S. HistoryCritical ThinkingArts & Humanities

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Go directly to the collection, By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s, in American Memory, or view a Summary of Resources related to the collection.

Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s, contains speeches, jokes, and works of fiction that provide a number of opportunities to discuss the symbolic depiction of baseball players in the media and other forms of contemporary popular culture.  These primary sources offer different accounts of baseball’s impact on American culture and provide the catalyst for a number of writing activities.

Baseball Players as Symbols

Red Stockings
First Nine of the Cincinnati Red Stockings Base Ball Club, c.1869.
    This collection contains a variety of images depicting baseball players from throughout the game's history. Early baseball images include an 1869 illustration of the first nine of the Cincinnati Red Stockings base ball club, which presents formal portraits of players in ties and jackets surrounding an image of a single man in the Red Stockings uniform. Later, cigarette cards such as the uncut sheet of cards depicting the 1887 Washington base ball club offer staged full-length photographs of players using a bat or a glove. The twentieth century provided candid photographs of players such as a 1915 portrait of Casey Stengel standing in the outfield wearing sunglasses. Examine and compare these images to determine the symbolic values assigned to baseball players through time.
  • Are the players in these images represented as part of a team or as individual players?
  • What is the appeal of each type of representation?
  • What personal skills or qualities are emphasized in the images? What adjectives would you use to describe the players?
  • How is the baseball player depicted as a hero?
  • How do the images from the mid-nineteenth century compare to the photographs in the American Memory collections, Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865 and America's First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotypes, 1839-1864?
  • What purpose do you think these symbolic images of baseball players have served? How has that purpose changed through time?
  • What are the implications of segregation in baseball when the players are treated symbolically?
Casey Stengel
Casey Stengel, 1915.


A 1954 Negro League game program features profiles of two different performers affiliated with the League for more than three decades. "The Charleston Story" describes the accomplishments of the legendary Negro League player and manager Oscar Charleston and chronicles achievements such as hitting two home runs in one game in 1924. "Things You Might Like to Know About Clown Ed Hamman" features different records of note:
One was in 1932, when he played before eight paid admissions on a Sunday afternoon in Berks County, Penn. The other was before a crowd of 86,288, the largest crowd in baseball history.
Clown Ed Hamman
Image from "Things You Might Like to Know About Clown Ed Hamman."
  • When and why are biographies written? Why do some people have biographies written about their lives and others do not?
  • Why are profiles of both Charleston and Hamman featured in the program?
  • How is each man described? What terms are used? Why?
  • What is the tone of each article? How does each man’s role in the League influence the tone of his biography?
  • Choose an athlete or entertainer that you admire and write a brief biography. What details should be emphasized? What tone will you use?


Woodrow Johnson’s 1949 song, "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?" is one of many songs written to honor Jackie Robinson’s on-field accomplishments, but Count Basie’s recording of the piece made it one of the most famous. Johnson’s lyrics provide an opportunity to discuss poetic devices such as rhyme scheme, word choice, and narration.

Song Sheet
Excerpt from Sheet Music for "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?"
Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
It went zoom in cross the left field wall.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

And when he swung his bat,
the crowd went wild,
because he knocked that ball a solid mile.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

  • How are Jackie Robinson’s actions described?
  • Does the songs describe a single event in a game or a general description of Robinson’s ability? Why?
  • What is the relationship between Robinson and the crowd?
  • What does the repetition of the rhyme scheme add to the song? How does it reinforce the lyrics?
  • How does this account compare to other songs about baseball players?
  • Choose an athlete and write a song (or poem) describing his or her abilities using a similar structure.

Persuasive Writing

Branch Rickey’s personal beliefs about race and baseball provided the opportunity for Jackie Robinson to enter the major leagues. Rickey’s 1956 speech for the "One Hundred Percent Wrong Club" banquet allows one to examine some of Rickey's arguments on race in America, in both his description of the "Robinson experiment" and in Rickey's presentation of the speech itself.  Near the end of his speech, Rickey describes the change in attitude of Jackie Robinson’s minor league manager:

He took me and shook me and his face that far from me and he said, "Do you really think that a 'nigger' is a human being, Mr. Rickey?" . . . And six months later he came into my office. . . . And he said to me, "I want to take back what I said to you last spring." . . . And then he told me that he was not only a great ball player good enough for Brooklyn, but he said that he was a fine gentleman. Proximity . . . will solve this thing if you can have enough of it. But that is a limited thing, you see.
  • What is the purpose of this anecdote? Why would someone use an anecdote in a speech?
  • How does the anecdote contribute to Rickey's argument? How does it contribute to the tone of the speech? How does the tone of the speech in turn contribute to the argument?
  • Does Rickey simplify race relations in America through this anecdote arguing for proximity?
  • Are there any imaginable scenarios in which the manager might not have changed his attitudes with equal or greater exposure to an African-American player?
  • Describe a time when you’ve changed your opinion of a person (whether for good or ill) after you’ve spent some time with him or her. How did it feel? Is this turnaround an argument for or against what Rickey would call, "proximity"?


Jackie Robinson Story
Still from The Jackie Robinson Story.
    Biographical films often take liberties with historical events to enhance their dramatic effect.  An excerpt from the screenplay of the The Jackie Robinson Story featuring the first interview between Branch Rickey (played by Minor Watson) and Jackie Robinson (played by himself) provides an opportunity to discuss how real life is depicted in the movies. Consider the following scene and the questions below:
RICKEY: Suppose I'm a player . . . in the heat of an important game. Suppose I collide with you at 2nd base. When I get up I say, "You dirty, black so-and-so." What'd you do?
JACKIE: (stops and thinks for a moment, then) Mr. Rickey, do you want a ball player who is afraid to fight back?
RICKEY: I want a ball player with guts enough not to fight back. You've got to do this job with base hits and stolen bases and fielding ground balls, Jackie. Nothing else. (whirls on him) Now, I'm playing against you in the World Series and I'm hot-headed. I want to win that game, so I go into you spikes first and you jab the ball in my ribs. The umpire says "Out." I flare -- all I see is your face -- that black face right on top of me. So I haul off and I punch you right in the cheek. What do you do?
    Jackie stops, grinds his right fist into the palm of his left hand, as the camera moves in, then
JACKIE: (slowly) Mr. Rickey, I've got two cheeks.
  • What is the desired effect of this scene?
  • How do the stage directions contribute to meeting this goal?
  • How does the dialogue sound?  Is it always realistic?
  • How would you perform this scene if you were playing the role of either Robinson or Rickey? What elements of the script will help you decide how to perform the scene?
  • How else might this scene be staged?
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Last updated 09/26/2002