Good Bye, Bobby

I missed the news the other day that Bobby Bragan died. He was 92 and an old ballplayer. He was also a hero of mine.

Bragan was from Alabama and got to the majors in 1940 as a shortstop with the Phillies. He played 597 games over 7 seasons, the last four years with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He spent most of his time as a backup shortstop and catcher. For a career he hit .240 with 15 home runs and 172 RBIs. He was one of the Dodgers players who signed the infamous petition to keep Jackie Robinson off the Dodgers prior to the 1947 season. After his playing days ended he served as a manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1956 and 1957, for the Cleveland Indians in 1958, and for the Braves (both in Milwaukee and Atlanta) from 1963-1966. He had a .481 winning percentage as a manager and never finished above 5th. 

“Hold it,” I hear you say, “this guy was a marginal player, a failed manager, a racist, and he’s a hero of yours? What gives?”  Let me tell you.

I once heard an interview with the Dodgers radio play-by-play man Red Barber, also a Southerner, in which he acknowledged his racism in 1946 and then commented that in terms of race Jackie Robinson “matured” him. Bragan was never that eloquent, but I think he might have agreed with the sentiment. Within a few weeks of Robinson’s arrival in Brooklyn, Bragan had changed his mind about Robinson. He saw him as a superior player, as a good person, saw the abuse the man took, and saw Robinson’s response to it. Somewhere along the line, Bragan had an epiphany and decided that he was wrong and that Robinson, and by extension black Americans, was OK. He became one of Robinson’s best friends on the Dodgers, later served as an honorary pallbearer at Robinson’s funeral. I’ve seen a picture of Bragan and Rachel Robinson embracing. As a manager he became known as a sympathetic ear and something of a mentor to black and Latin ballplayers, most specifically Roberto Clemente. He solidly backed Hank Aaron in the rush to the home run record.

Most of us, me included, have a lot of trouble finding an internal flaw. We tend to ignore them and when confronted with one fall back on “it’s not my fault” or “who, me?” or some such response. Bragan didn’t.  He confronted his racism head on, saw it’s evil, and changed his ways. Then he became a supporter of that which he’d previously despised. Quite a change for anyone. That makes him a hero of mine. Rest in peace, Bobby.

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: