Head baseball coach James Cooper and the Grambling State University baseball team got a special preview of “Jackie Robinson,” the latest Ken Burns documentary for Public Broadcasting Corporation at the Eddie G. Robinson Museum.
The one-day special screening featured a portion of the documentary, scheduled to air on PBS stations April 11-12.
In the film, Burns helps viewers “witness the moment Jackie Robinson started to challenge other ballplayers and umpires” and to “see how reporters began to come to Jackie directly, as he spoke out more, and played a season better than ever before,” according to a Burns post on Facebook earlier this week. Burns uses actual footage mixed with recent interviews to tell Robinson’s story, including interviews with his widow, Rachel Robinson, President Barack Obama, and First Lady Michelle Obama, to tell how Robinson broke the major league color line when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Joining the baseball team were Grambling State baseball legends Wilbert Ellis, Ralph “Road Runner” Garr, several other notable former professional baseball players and a baseball writer. Ellis played at GSU and coached the baseball team until 1978.
Ellis was an assistant coach for 17 seasons until 1978. During his 26-year career as coach of the Tigers, he compiled a 745-462-1 record.
After the preview, Ellis told the team that what Robinson did to deal with those who didn’t care to see a black man playing major league baseball is what they need to do: go out there and do your job. “Then you quiet down a lot of things, when you do your job and do it well,” he said.
Ellis put the preview in context, noting that African Americans came from all over to see Robinson play. “Jackie opened the door so fast it had blacks coming by trains, buses, and cars,” he said. “It was beyond baseball. It opened the door for the work market and business market. The community was thrilled to death.”
Robinson played baseball at UCLA, where he played with black and white players before joining the pros.
The documentary shows that he was able to push through because he was a tremendous athlete. He opened the door for other black players, including Garr, Larry Doby, Willie “Home run Brown” Monte Irving and Hank Aaron.
As a senior at GSU, Garr’s .582 batting average led the nation and he was named an NAIA first team All-American. Garr’s major league career included playing for the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago White Sox and the California Angels. He was the National League batting champion in 1974 and a N.L. All-Star in 1974. He was inducted into the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Jackie was an established great player,” said Garr.