One critique of the pervading Jackie Robinson legacy narrative goes something like this: most fans and admirers already know about Jackie Robinson the symbolic hero and virtual saint, but we are sorely at a loss for historical accounts of Jackie Robinson the man, the conflicted, or even (gasp) the fallible. After 42 was released in 2013, much remains the same—at least in terms of onscreen portraits. However, books like Jules Tygiel’s Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy (1983) and Arnold Rampersad’s Jackie Robinson: A Biography (1997), among others, thankfully lend some dimensions and shades of complexity to a tale otherwise typically told in terms of contrasts as stark as the very racial divides that Robinson helped bridge.
However, this isn’t a book review. And in any case, there’s something else that conveys with utter realism the very ephemeral humanity of our most renowned historic figures: the curious photographic and painterly images of such popular idols printed crisp and bright at first, before they inevitably morph with age on whatever moldy or brittle scraps of cardboard. . . .
In as much, the first time I laid eyes on this topographic spectacle of crags and rifts, a veritable ravine running prominently down the ravaged geographic center, I thought I’d found the one. Surely, this must be the poorest of all specimens of 1953 Topps Jackie Robinson #1. . . .
Not long after, though, I discovered this poor Jackie: complete with some anonymous soul’s tortured math homework scratched out and hovering ethereally in lead-penciled glory over Robinson’s right shoulder—whereupon I knew that there could be no better paradigm for a poor 1953 Topps Jackie Robinson #1. . . .
Thus I close with an ill-advised and downright silly, sentimental quote (what my former 18th Century English literature professor might term bathetic). Still the words feel oddly apt. To (mis)appropriate from those gaudy pop icons of moussed hair, leather, keyboard synths, and moogs:
The noise electric never stops
And all you need is what you got
And there’s a place for everyone
Under heartbeat city’s golden sun
—The Cars, “Heartbeat City”