….in the world when he integrated baseball
That’s a bold headline I wrote up there. For brevity I had to separate it a bit. I’ll put it here again, in bold.
Jackie Robinson was not one of the best players in the world when he integrated baseball.
That can’t be right, can it? I’m sure Jemele Hill (yeah, again, sorry) would say I’m referencing her out of context, but I’d like you to be the judge. Her column is titled “Althea Gibson was as important as Jackie Robinson.”
Unlike Robinson, Gibson was one of the best players in the world when she integrated tennis. She'd won 10 national championships in the American Tennis Association, the governing body for black tournaments.
So Jackie Robinson wasn’t one of the best players in the world when he integrated baseball? Even if you assume that she’s speaking only of the 1947 season and therefore discounting his MVP season in 1949, and the seasons he had from 1949 to 1954 where he OPS+’d north of 130 every year, he was still very good in 1947. MVP voting is of course flawed but the fact that he was 5th in the MVP voting means he rated pretty well to his peers. He had an OPS + of 111. He was 10th in the league in total bases, he scored 125 runs, and he stole 29 bases. He was also under, you know, a little pressure and a bit of a microscope that year.
He had similar results in 1948, then the aforementioned 1949-1954 stretch when he just tore shit up. In 1949, he was .342/.432/.528 with 16 homers, 12 triples and 37 steals and added 124 RBIs and 122 Runs. He was in the top 5 in the NL in BA, OBP, OPS, Runs, Hits, RBI, TB, Doubles, Triples, stolen bases, X-base hits, and he was 7th in walks. That’s a historically good all-around year for a second baseman. His other years in that period were comparable in many ways. I believe Robinson stole HOME 19 times in his career, most in the post-integration era. Since she quotes Gibson’s ATA mark, I’ll say that in Robinson’s one year in the Negro Leagues he hit .387.
Now maybe she meant to say “2 or 3” best players in the world, but she didn’t, and she didn’t imply that narrow a focus. Jackie Robinson was absolutely one of the best players in the world at the time he joined MLB, and is on the short list of the best 2B of all-time.
What an odd way to support Althea Gibson’s greatness - to discount Jackie Robinson’s.