Jackie Robinson famously said that a life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives. As we celebrate Robinson’s 100th birthday in January 2019, A Fine Team Man profiles not only Robinson, but nine other figures whose lives were altered by the “great experiment,” as the integration of baseball was called then. Profiled here are Rachel Robinson, the stoic and enduring wife; Branch Rickey, the tight-fisted but far-sighted general manager/owner of the Dodgers; baseball commissioner ”Happy” Chandler, who navigated political factions as he paved the way for integration; Clyde Sukeforth, the jack of all trades whose assessment, instruction, and encouragement of Robinson were crucial to the player’s success; Red Barber, whose own views on integration were altered by Robinson’s example of grace under pressure; Wendell Smith, the prominent black journalist who helped Robinson navigate through the trappings of a racist society; Burt Shotton, whose low-key style of managing helped Robinson into his best seasons; Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers captain who united the team behind Robinson; and finally, Dixie Walker, the veteran Dodgers star who vowed never to play alongside Robinson, but who was eventually so changed by Robinson’s courage that he spent his last years working to improve the skills of such African-American players as Maury Wills, Jim Wynn, and Dusty Baker. While the story of Jackie Robinson has often been told and retold, seeing it through the lens of the lives he changed gives it a fresh shine. Perhaps more than ever, Robinson’s excellence sparkles through A Fine Team Man to demonstrate that change remains not only possible, but certain for both great heroes and for those who are savvy or fortunate enough to share the journey or at least stand in the wake during the hero’s finest moments.
Joe Cox is the author of Almost Perfect: The Heartbreaking Pursuit of Pitching’s Holy Grail and The Immaculate Inning. A member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), Cox is a coauthor of several other sports books. He lives with his family near Bowling Green, Kentucky.