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Downstate Times

The Newsletter for SUNY Downstate
University Hospital of Brooklyn

The Day I Met Jackie Robinson

By Gerald Deas, MD, MPH
Director, Health Education Communications


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Dr. Gerald Deas, Jackie Robinson


When I was a student in Boys High School, I scored one of the first interviews with Jackie Robinson, shortly after he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.

How did this happen?

I was sixteen years old and a gung-ho reporter for the school newspaper. When I heard that Mr. Robinson had moved to Bedford Stuyvesant, I took my pencil and paper in hand, and walked over to his apartment, which turned out to be a small second-floor walk-up, and knocked on his door.

This was a few days after April 15, 1947 – the first day that Mr. Robinson stepped out on the field as a Dodger. I remember that day vividly, because April 15 is also my birthday.

Lo and behold – he himself answered the door! There was Jackie Robinson, in a white polo shirt and high-waisted pants.

I introduced myself, told him who I was and that I wanted to interview him for the school paper, and just like that, he invited me in.

Physically, Jackie Robinson was a giant of a man – but he was soft-talking and had such a calm, easy-going personality that he put me immediately at ease.

We spent the afternoon together, with Mr. Robinson showing me memorabilia from his career in the Negro baseball leagues.

When I got back to school and turned in my story to the newspaper, everyone on its staff was shocked. They kept asking, "How did you do that?"

Jackie Robinson broke the "color line" in baseball. In trying to publish my interview with him, I found that I also faced a color barrier. At the time, the school newspaper, the Red and Black, would not run a bylined article by an African American. So the story ran, but without my name on it.

One thing I learned from Jackie Robinson is that, in life, you have to take chances. For me, I immediately applied that lesson to my own baseball career, such as it was. I was playing ball in the Kiwanis League. I decided I would take the same type of chances that Jackie Robinson would take on the field – and try my hand at stealing bases.

There was a day when I was "in the zone," as we would say nowadays, and I stole a record number of bases. This gained a headline in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, "Deas Steals Six Bases."

My grandmother got so upset by that headline, I almost got a whipping. No grandchild of hers was going to steal and get away with it!

DID YOU KNOW?

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Home field for the Brooklyn Dodgers was located just several blocks from Downstate. The stadium was located at Bedford Avenue and Sullivan Place, now the site of the Ebbets Field Apartments complex, named for the stadium.

I have many other great memories of baseball in Brooklyn at that time. I would take a trolley for a nickel to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers play. It cost 65 cents to get into the nosebleed seats – meaning there was no money for popcorn or soda – but it was a treat just to be there.

On days when the Dodgers weren't playing, I would go to Ebbets Field to watch teams in the Negro League play. At their games, I could get in for free and sit in the dug-out in return for carrying bags of bats for the players and keeping them straight throughout the game.

But my greatest Brooklyn baseball memory has got to be meeting and being inspired by this great man, Jackie Robinson. And I never forgot his advice: In life you have to take chances -- something I have remembered throughout my career in medicine and public health.


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