As Jackie Robinson Was Making History, Wendell Smith Wrote It

Wendell Smith
Wendell Smith

Sportswriter Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times recently wrote a thoughtful and necessary essay about sportswriter Wendell Smith, who covered Jackie Robinson’s ascendancy into major league baseball for the Pittsburgh Courier and “finally gets his due” in the recently released motion picture “42.”  Here is an excerpt and a link to the entire article:

Baseball’s greatest story will be rewritten again Monday as the sport celebrates the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking the major leagues’ color barrier.Yet the man who wrote the story will be forgotten.

In every game, players from every team will wear 42, the number on the back of Robinson’s jersey when he debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

Yet nobody will sit in the stands with a manual typewriter atop their knees in memory of the man who, even as he wrote about integration on the field, was barred from the press box because he was black.

Nobody will honor the man who endured the same prejudice as Robinson as he fought that prejudice with his words. Nobody will remember the man whose hidden fight became an inspiration for Robinson’s public battle.

Everyone will remember the headline, but few will remember the byline — Wendell Smith.

The humble, bespectacled journalist was Robinson’s chronicler, his confidant, and sometimes even his conscience. As sports editor and columnist for the African American-owned Pittsburgh Courier, Smith accompanied Robinson throughout his first major league season, creating his image, reporting his words and crusading for his rights.

As Robinson grew more popular, Smith became more invisible, until he eventually became Robinson’s ghost writer in the literal sense, the memory of him turning ethereal and nearly vanishing altogether.

“Everywhere we went, Wendell Smith was there,” said Don Newcombe, former Dodgers pitcher, who was Robinson’s longtime teammate, friend and fellow pioneer. “He was instrumental in so many things that happened, he should not be forgotten.”

Read the rest of Plaschke’s story here.

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article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

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