I read Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season by Jonathan Eig earlier in the year after also watching the movie 42. I recommend both if you’re at all interested in baseball history or civil rights history in the United States.
Over the last year or so, I’ve learned to highlight (I never really did it as a student), and I thought it would be an interesting project to choose the ten most illuminating highlights for any book that I read. This could be like a best-of preview of a book. I’ll tag future posts like this with “kindle notes”. Items in  are my notes to aid with context.
1. He was not the most talented black ballplayer in the country. He had a weak throwing arm and a creaky ankle. He had only one year of experience in the minor leagues, and, at twenty-eight, he was a little bit old for a first-year player. But he loved a fight. His greatest assets were tenacity and a knack for getting under an opponent’s skin.
2. Yet while many of the white members of the Olympic track team went on to careers as coaches and teachers and radio broadcasters, Jesse Owens, the biggest hero of them all, found himself racing against horses at county fairs and minor-league baseball parks, one small step removed from a circus act. Mack settled for work as a street sweeper on the night shift.
3. “Dusky Jack Robinson,” the Los Angeles Times called him, the adjective serving as a signal to readers who might not have been aware of his race.
4. The hypocrisy was so jolting that even the Japanese had picked up on it during the war, showering black troops with leaflets intended to sap their morale. “If Americans are fighting for the freedom and equality of all people,” the propaganda read, “why aren’t Negro Americans allowed to play baseball?”
5. But in one important way, the accounts are often misleading. Rickey didn’t choose Robinson for his ability to turn the other cheek. Had Rickey wanted a pacifist, he might have selected any one of half a dozen men with milder constitutions than Jack Roosevelt Robinson’s. Rickey wanted an angry black man. He wanted someone big enough and strong enough to intimidate, and someone intelligent enough to understand the historic nature of his role. Perhaps he even wanted a dark-skinned man whose presence would be more strongly felt, more plainly obvious, although on this point Rickey was uncharacteristically silent. Clearly, the Dodger boss sought a man who would not just raise the issue of equal rights but would press it.
6. Bench jockeying had always been a part of the game, and the taunting often centered on ethnicity. Babe Ruth had been called “Nigger Lips” by players who speculated that at least one of his ancestors must have been black. Hank Greenberg, the game’s greatest Jewish star, had been referred to as a kike and a Christ killer. But even veterans of the game had never heard anything like the insults hurled at Robinson.
7. In the years to come, the steal of home would become Robinson’s calling card. He would pull off the trick nineteen times in his career, enough to put him in the top ten on the all-time list, though well behind Ty Cobb’s record of fifty-four. But for Robinson, it wasn’t the quantity that counted so much as the style.
8. The team picked up the full tab for the writers’ travel expenses and plied them with lots of free booze on top of that. There was no contract stipulating that the journalists would treat the team kindly in exchange for services rendered, but the quid pro quo was clear: Don’t bite the hand that pours your cocktails.
9. As Robinson made pitchers edgy, Reiser stood at the plate ready to take advantage. Before 1947, he drew walks in only about 9 percent of all his trips to the plate. But in 1947, he increased that number to almost 15 percent. In 1946, he had hit only .277, with a .361 on-base average. In 1947, getting more fastballs thanks to Robinson, he hit .309, with a career-best .415 on-base average, despite complaints of suffering vertigo on and off after his collision with the outfield wall.
10. Most important perhaps, given the general state of insecurity among the Dodgers, he refused to show fear. Among teammates who had wondered before meeting Robinson whether black players had the mental toughness for the game, all doubt had been removed this October. “He was our best player,” Bobby Bragan said years later. The question faced now by his teammates was whether they could match his determination and ferocity.