What if Jackie Robinson Retired Because of Willie Mays?


My favorite Christmas present was an interesting baseball trivia book/game called Obsessed with Baseball.  Even though I’ve thus far found at least one incorrect question/answer, I’m crazy about this obsessive new toy.

One of the questions was about the fact that, in 1957, Jackie Robinson retired from baseball rather than be traded to the hated Giants.  I’d not thought much about it, but began wondering about the possibility that one of the reasons a rapidly aging Robinson would retire was to prevent being unfavorably compared to a much younger Willie Mays who was nowhere near his prime.

Because of his reputaion, no one would remotely consider the possibility that Robinson, who was experiencing serious health problems and deterroration, might not want to be on the same team with the up and coming hot shot Willie Mays.

While writing this, I’ve been emailing back and forth with my editor, who is a huge (very liberal) Mays fan.  He wrote this in an email that needs to go into my argument.

“…But don’t forget, Jackie was 28 or so when he finally got the chance to play.  For a player of his type, utilizing speed and cunning a la Ty Cobb, his fastest days were behind him.  Also, he played under pressures that had dissipated somewhat by Mays’ time.  The Say Hey Kid was not the pioneer Jackie was, and in any case didn’t have the education, sensitivity, etc. Jackie was constantly harassed by fans, opponents, and even teammates.   I would have loved to have seen him play in the Negro Leagues when he was 21…”

By this time Robinson is pushing his late 30s.  But – he was in his mid- 30s – when a MLB player usually hits his prime, when Mays came up.  Mays was just a kid, young, not near his prime.

Go crunch the stats and see what you come up with.