by Mark Jent
I was saddened to learn of the passing of my friend Mr. Ron Rabinovitz on April 27th. We met five years ago via Brooklyn Dodgers connections and our mutual passion for those Boys of Summer. It was then that I learned of his special story of being pen pals with Jackie Robinson in the 1950s when he was a kid. It’s a story that has been well publicized since he found those old letters in his parents’ attic a couple of decades ago. MLB Network produced a documentary on it called “Letters From Jackie.”
We later met for the first time in Los Angeles after Game 1 of the 2017 World Series. He was gracious with his time as we talked for hours into the night in the hotel lobby about the game, his story and our passion for the Dodgers. Even though it had been over six decades since he received the letters, he was telling the story as if he pulled them out of his mailbox yesterday. The featured image in this story is of us from that evening.
His website, www.ronrabinovitz.com, has a wealth of information, or you can google his name and find a plethora of great stories written about him and his relationship with Jackie Robinson. Ron was so proud that he was able to share Jackie Robinson’s legacy from his perspective and pass it down for generations to come.
In 2020 Ron released a children’s book titled “Always Jackie,” which is how Jackie would always end his letters to little Ronnie. Like a lot of childhood mementos they were tucked away in his parents’ attic until he uncovered them in the 1990s. Ron found over 20 letters he saved during those years from when they were pen pals.
Ron lived in Minnesota and in recent years he worked part time for the Twins. He spoke to school groups who came to take ballpark tours of Target Field. He would travel the country speaking to businesses, schools and nonprofits to deliver an inspiring message on diversity and inclusion as it related to his special friendship with Jackie Robinson.
The encounters Ron had with Jackie in the mid-1950s and the letters they exchanged shaped his journey and opened doors in ways that little boy from Sheboygan (WI) could never have imagined. In the spring of 1972 Ron was in New York City for business and he met up with Jackie. Now a grown man in his late 20’s, Ron’s friendship with Jackie had moved past being pen pals and they had remained in touch for nearly two decades. When it was time to leave, it was an emotional goodbye as Ron knew it would most likely be the last time he saw his childhood hero.
In 2013 the History Theater in St. Paul came out with the “The Incredible Season of Ronnie Rabinovitz,” written by Eric Simonson. The play focused on Ron’s relationship as a boy with both Jackie Robinson and future U.S. President, John F. Kennedy. (trailer linked above.)
In recent years Ron was very active in multiple Facebook groups where he found community with others who shared his passion for baseball – The Brooklyn Dodgers Nostalgia Society group, the Brooklyn Dodgers Boys of Summer group, the Dodgers Chronicles group and more. Two of those friendships are Peter Trunk from New Jersey and Jim Denny from Indiana.
“Ronnie was a true friend for many years and he touched many lives, including mine,” said Trunk who co-hosted the Dodgers Chronicles Baseball Show with Ron. “I will always treasure our time together from producing the show to staying connected while following our Dodgers. I will miss him greatly.”
“Ronnie and I became friends back in 2013. The movie “42” had just come out and I had started to get to know a hometown hero here in Anderson, Carl Erskine, a teammate and friend of Jackie Robinson. That is when I learned of his relationship with Jackie,” said Denny. “Ron loved Jackie and Rachel and was honored to be their friend. He kept telling the story of his friendship for 50 years after Jackie passed away. I’ve been fortunate to get to know Carl and Betty over the past several years and am grateful for our close friendship today. I hope I can keep telling Carl’s story like Ronnie did Jackie’s.”
Karen Malka was Ron’s daughter and I reached out to her recently and asked about the impact he had on her life and the legacy he leaves behind. “My dad always taught us to treat people the way we want to be treated. His stories from his time with Jackie were weaved into our upbringing,” said Karen. “I will miss watching the spark in his eye and happiness in his voice when he would share those stories with others especially with children. My dad was very special and I can’t say that I know anyone else like him…he was a one of a kind.”
Months before I launched my Simply A Fan website in July 2018 I reached out to Ron to ask if he would agree to write his baseball story to be featured as the first story on the site. He kindly obliged and I’ve been forever indebted to him since. You can read that first story here, “More Than Just 42.”
Back in December when Brooklyn Dodger 1B Gil Hodges was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, I immediately called Ron, Peter and Jim via FaceTime. We were spread all over the map, but we each had been watching MLB Network anxiously anticipating the results. As fans of that era of Dodger baseball and advocates for Gil Hodges induction, the four of us were able to share in the moment of celebration together. I will always treasure that moment.
I was last in touch with Ron just a few days before Opening Day in April. Our beloved Gil Hodges was going into the Hall of Fame, the chains of the lockout had been broken and spring was in the air as our Dodgers were getting ready to start another season. What I will remember most about Ron was that he was always jovial and encouraging in all of our conversations.
Although he never stepped foot on a big league diamond, Ron Rabinovitz leaves behind an indelible mark on baseball with a unique story that few fans throughout the history of the game can claim. He will be sorely missed, but thanks to him putting pen to paper as a kid to write his childhood hero a letter, his fingerprint and rich legacy will live on.
Here are a few pictures that he provided me of him and Jackie and a snapshot of a few of those precious letters.
Below you will find featured stories and videos that spotlight Ron Rabinovitz journey and friendship with Jackie Robinson.
– CBS Evening News (2007)
– Larry King Live Interview (2013)
– Twins Live on Fox Sports (2013)
– Twin Cities Pioneer Press (2014)
– Baseball Hall of Fame Interview
– Star Tribune (2020)
– MLB.com: Jackie Robinson and the Kid (2020)
– Leigh High Valley Live (2021)
– Star Tribune: Rabinovitz Passes Away (2022)
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Mark Jent is the chief trip planner and designated storyteller for Simply A Fan. He lives in Nashville with his wife Beth, and their three kids, Brooklyn, Harrison and Zach. He enjoys cheering on his Dodgers, reading baseball history, hiking at Radnor Lake and chasing waterfalls throughout Tennessee with his family. He launched Simply A Fan in July 2018 with the two-fold purpose of taking people on adventures to ballparks across the country and providing fans a platform to share their baseball stories. He is currently on a quest to meet as many of the living Brooklyn Dodgers as possible.