"There was tremendous pressure in the organization, with 800 players on one-year contracts. We were trying to win games, so we didn't see Jack's social impact. Oh, there was the good-natured kidding, but that went on behind every player's back and he was just included. Not vicious, certainly not ridicule. For instance, when Jack started turning gray, some guys called him Uncle Remus. He took it well, he knew he fit. We'd been through too much together."
The exhibit moves to Robinson's Dodger days. There is a model of Ebbets Field. Other mementos in this part of the exhibition include some of Robinson's bats—thick-handled to contend with the inside pitches he constantly had to face—as well as uniform jerseys with his No. 42, and even some seats from Ebbets Field. On a wall is an enormous photograph of Brooklyn fans at the ballpark, all smiles and cheers. Erskine says, "The Brooklyn fans accepted him pretty well. I can't recall a single incident. Why should they have bothered him? He won so many games for us. If you had a funny nose or a crooked walk, they got on you. Other fans and opposing players did get on him, but very few used color in a derogatory way towards Jack. He was a controversial figure, no matter what his color. He'd take great displeasure at people who'd say, 'You've made it—everything's great.' He'd say, 'Because I've made it only magnifies what needs to be done.' He was very unhappy with some of the things that hadn't been done. He'd still be today. He'd say, 'Where are the black managers and the black executives?' The Campanis interview would have made him irate."
While looking at photographs of Robinson running the bases, Erskine says, "Such quick starts and stops." He shakes his head, savoring the memory. "He rejuvenated baseball into a running-stealing game. It had been passive since Ruth and the home run. I heard comments from other players who disliked him, not because he was black but because he was a strong competitor who would irritate them with his daring play. He wasn't a braggart, but he would take the field and with his actions announce, I want you.' Sam Jones was a wild Cubs pitcher, and he'd toss behind Jack's butt. Jack would get to Jones by talking to him from the batter's box. Then he'd walk, and taunt Jones from first base. He irritated Sam Jones only because it gave us an advantage."
Erskine gazes at a case containing bats signed by entire Dodger teams, and other pieces of equipment, including a pair of his own scarred spikes. Beside those shoes lies Sal Maglie's glove. Maglie eventually was traded to the Dodgers, but he is best remembered as a vicious knockdown pitcher for the Giants. One day Robinson bunted toward first, hoping Maglie would be drawn over to field the ball so Robinson could knock him over. But the bunt was too far from the mound, and instead of hip-checking Maglie, Robinson ran over the Giants' young second baseman, Davey Williams, who suffered a severe spinal injury. "Jack played hard, he slid hard, he was a rough player," says Erskine. "With Davey, that was retaliation; he wanted Maglie. All Jack saw was GIANTS across Davey's chest."
An exhibition case holds the MVP plaque and the Silver Bat Robinson won for leading the National League in hitting in 1949. Above it are enlarged copies of several letters threatening Robinson's life. One reads, "We have already got rid of several like you. One was found in the river just recently." Robinson, and eventually his teammates, devised ways to get around the insults and threats. "We used to play an exhibition game in Atlanta as we worked our way north from [spring training in] Vero Beach," remembers Erskine. "They wouldn't let blacks in the stands in Atlanta. While we were in the clubhouse, our manager [ Charlie Dressen] read a threatening letter aloud and we all got very quiet. What to do? What to say? Gene Hermanski finally said, 'Well, Skip, tell you what, we'll all wear number 42 and he won't know who to shoot.' It broke everyone up. Players would joke, saying 'Hey Jack, would you mind moving over that way a little,' but Jack always went right ahead with what he had to do, playing as if nothing had ever happened." Erskine purses his lips. "I never saw Jack Robinson scared."
Erskine stops at a photograph of Robinson standing beside a trunk in the clubhouse. His bags are packed as is his smile, for this is the day in 1958 when the Dodgers traded the aging Robinson to the despised Giants. Thirty years later, Erskine is still puzzled: "I don't understand that. I think they decided he wasn't an every-day player anymore. I think it was a grandstand play. He could still hit shots. He always hit vicious line drives. If they'd been up in the air, he would have hit a lot more home runs."
Robinson declined to play for the Giants and retired into a business career instead. A series of photographs documents his days as a food company executive, and later at the Freedom National Bank. There are shots of him standing before the bombed-out house of a black Birmingham minister, of him grasping a shovel at ground-breaking ceremonies for a low-income housing development, talking with NAACP officials and with Malcolm X. All are testimony that Robinson's civil-rights activities continued long after his batting eye faded.
In the course of raising his son, Erskine has become active in movements for the handicapped. He says, "Without realizing it, I think Jack helped me to know my son. There are real similarities in our society's accepting the handicapped and minorities in places they've never been. When Jack broke in, Mr. Rickey told him, 'Some oppose this, hardly any are on your side, and most are neutrals just waiting to see.' You still have the radical few who are that way with minorities and the handicapped, but I think Jack's experience brought a lot of understanding to the neutrals."
The exhibition ends with a gallery of drawings, poems, essays and rap songs created by schoolchildren inspired by their studies of Robinson's life. Erskine glances at some photographs of people crying during Robinson's funeral in 1972, and then strides slowly through the gallery and out into the lobby. He bumps into Rachel Robinson and they embrace. The two talk for a while, then Rachel must leave. Both are genuinely happy that this unplanned encounter occurred. "Jackie tended to trust Carl Erskine a great deal," Rachel says. "They conducted their lives similarly, held many values and beliefs in common. Both were strong family men who admired that devotion in each other. Jackie always said Carl was one of the first to support him."
As Erskine watches Rachel walk away, he says, "What shocked me more than Jack's death was the time a couple of years earlier when someone asked him to play golf. He said he couldn't because he couldn't see the ball. It affected me deeply how such a man's health had deteriorated so much. The two strongest men on the Dodgers, Jack and Gil Hodges, died so young. I'm forever saddened their lives were so short."