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Baseball's Greatest Season

April 15, 1947, marked the most important opening day in baseball history. When Jackie Robinson stepped onto the diamond that afternoon at Ebbets Field, he became the first Black man to break into major-league baseball in the twentieth century. World War II had just ended. Democracy had triumphed. Now Americans were beginning to press for justice on the home front—and Robinson had a chance to lead the way. 

In Opening Day, Jonathan Eig tells the true story behind the national pastime’s most sacred myth. He offers new insights into events of sixty years ago and punctures some familiar legends. Was it true that the St. Louis Cardinals plotted to boycott their first home game against the Brooklyn Dodgers? Was Pee Wee Reese really Robinson’s closest ally on the team? How did Robinson handle the extraordinary stress of being the only Black man in baseball and still manage to perform so well on the field? Opening Day is also the story of a team of underdogs that came together against tremendous odds to capture the pennant. Facing the powerful New York Yankees, Robinson and the Dodgers battled to the seventh game in one of the most thrilling World Series competitions of all time. 

Drawing on interviews with surviving players, sportswriters, and eyewitnesses, as well as newly discovered material from archives around the country, Jonathan Eig presents a fresh portrait of a ferocious competitor who embodied integration’s promise and helped launch the modern civil-rights era. Full of new details and thrilling action, Opening Day brings to life baseball’s ultimate story.

"A major-league biography...superb."


Why Robinson?

After my first book, a biography of Lou Gehrig, I knew two things:

1. I wanted to write another baseball book.

2. It had to be about more than baseball.


A reader of the Gehrig book emailed a suggestion: How about a book on the friendship between Jackie Robinson and his teammate, Pee Wee Reese? But how strong a friendship was it? I decided to ask Robinson's wife, Rachel. But when I got her on the phone, she did not seem pleased by my line of inquiry. Finally, I just asked her straight: Are you mad at me? I'm sensitive that way, as my mother can tell you. 


Rachel, politely, told me that she was indeed a little bit miffed. She was tired, she told me, of people putting Pee Wee Reese at the center of her husband's story. She was tired of people suggesting that a white man's friendship made her husband's success possible. Moreover, she went on, there was no friendship in 1947. She and Jack (as she always called him) were alone that year. No teammate took a strong stand in support of baseball's first Black player until after he had proven his abilities, until after he had endured the threat of a boycott, until after he had endured death threats and racial epithets, until after he proved he was capable of leading the Dodgers to the World Series.

She and Jack were alone that year, Mrs. Robinson told me. So alone they didn't even rent their own apartment. They paid monthly for a room in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood, without their own bathroom or kitchen. It was Jack, Rachel, and Jack Jr., the three of them crammed into an 8x10 space, facing an unprecedented challenge, more than a full decade before the modern civil rights movement would add muscle and masses to the fight for racial justice.

That's why Mrs. Robinson didn't want to talk about Pee Wee. And that's why I knew I'd found a much better book subject than the one I'd initially imagined.

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