Title: I Never Had it Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson
Authors: Jackie Robinson (as told to Alfred Duckett)

Published by Ecco Books
Pages: 279

I haven’t been invited to a prescreening of “42,” so my knowledge of the film is limited. But it certainly seemed appropriate to read Jackie Robinson’s autobiography before seeing the big screen adaptation of a small part of Mr. Robinson’s life.

We all know a lot about Jackie Robinson the baseball player and his historic breaking of the color barrier.  But far fewer know all of what Robinson went through, the real backstory, or of Branch Rickey (biography), who took great risks to give Robinson that chance.  Even fewer than that know of Robinson the man and what he did while off the field and once his career was done.
Robinson’s Major League career could be called brief.  He played just 10 years, all with the Brooklyn Dodgers, leaving them just before their move to the West Coast.  But his impact on the game -- and in fact on all sports and society -- has lingered on.

Unlike “42,” Jackie’s autobiography isn’t about the story of breaking the color barrier in baseball -- although it certainly is in there -- but the story of being a man, of living by his convictions and doing his best to end segregation, improve the lives of people around him and of the difficulties he and other minorities had to face during his lifetime.

In some ways the book is an artifact of another time.  It tells a story that many of us know from history, rather than first hand.  It’s a book of politics, civil rights, societal norms and changes in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and even early 70’s.  While some might shrug and say that it is past history, you shouldn’t.  This book is a very personal glimpse into another time, even another world that most of us have never experienced.

Unlike the biographies of many of baseball’s other black stars, this one isn’t so much about just the game and Robinson’s accomplishments.  It’s about who Jackie Robinson was.  Only a small part is about what Jackie endured those first few seasons playing in all-white baseball, and the strength it took to be a paragon in order to wedge the door firmly open so that the color barrier in sports would stay broken.

Once that had been accomplished, Robinson could again be his own man.  He could speak out, defend himself and work for what he believed in.  And he really did.  While some called him “an angry black man” or worse, Robinson had a great integrity in what he did and what he accomplished not just on the field but in business and politics.

He did a lot of things that he believed were right, no matter who approved or disapproved of them.  He inspired people, he changed minds, he challenged the status quo, and at times he made a ruckus.  He also faced a lot of personal challenges: raising a family, the struggles his children had with having a famous father and the spotlight that came with it, dealing with a drug addicted child, losing a child and even his own preconceptions when it came to his wife and her own identity.

In short, if you really want to get to know Robinson, not just the Hollywood version of the man portrayed in “42,” this is a book that you should read.  It’s an easy read, entertaining and captivating.  It’s also rather educational and may well teach you a lot about people you thought you knew in recent politics, about Vietnam, substance abuse, civil rights and how far we still have to go.  

It’s a very good read and certainly is thought provoking and written to inspire.

That said, it’s not a brilliant baseball book or even the best read about the Jackie Robinson story, but it’s a personal one with his own impressions and feelings.  There is a lot about his conversations, correspondences and conflicts with men like Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon and many others.  

It’s an artifact about a man who had great convictions and who changed the world.  Certainly he’d have liked to have thought that it was his post baseball career that made the most difference in terms of civil rights, but I’ll leave that for the reader to decide.

If you really want to know Jackie Robinson, read the book.

Give this one a solid 2.5 balls. It’s a solid read, but if you are looking for a book that is more about baseball than about the man himself it’s probably not the book for you.  Still I found it fascinating and I think most readers will too. writes its book reviews with the following rating scale in mind:

Four Balls:
An exceptional book that truly earns a walk straight to the local book store to get a copy.

Three Balls: This book stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.

Two Balls: A book worth reading/owning and is usually above average.

One Ball: This book has something to say but is nothing special.