On October 24, 1972, Jackie Robinson died of heart failure. He was 53 years old. His death came just nine days after he performed the “first pitch” ceremony at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio before Game Two of the 1972 World Series between the Oakland Athletics and the Cincinnati Reds. Robinson at that time was suffering from severe Type II Diabetes. He was blind in one eye, his body weakened physically. The television audience and fans attending the game were shocked noticing Robinson looked like a much older man.
The deteriorating state of Robinson’s body at that time many believed was due more than to diabetes. They believe it was also from the stress and pressure of carrying the burden of his race to succeed when he broke through Major League baseball’s color line beginning in 1947. Robinson also had refrained especially his first few years in the Major Leagues from verbally or physically responding to the racial taunts and insults he encountered. What was seen in Robinson that day in Cincinnati was to many the result of internalizing those strong feelings and emotions of being the first African American in the Major Leagues in the Twentieth Century.
Despite his declining physical condition, Robinson still displayed the courage and mental toughness he exhibited during his playing days. In his speech on that clear fall day, Robinson was critical of Major League baseball for not having any African American team managers. Even as he approached the end of his life, Robinson was still an advocate for African Americans; still pushing and stirring things up. It would be two years in 1974, when Frank Robinson became the first African American Major League manager.
Jackie Robinson’s last public appearance, despite his illness, was a reflection of his the impact he had on baseball and on American society.
Who was the pallbearer at Jackie Robinson’s funeral that was not a former baseball player?