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If These Steps Could Talk


by Mark Jent

This is 5224 Tilden Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. The day I went by to visit in January 2016 it was just a run-down, padlocked dilapidated old brick house. For someone just passing by, there is nothing significant about this house more so than any other in the neighborhood. It is not on the national register of historic places, but it holds so much history. It is not a museum, but it undoubtedly once housed a lot of priceless artifacts. Although it’s eye appeal was less than pleasing, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “If these steps could talk.”

This is the house where Jackie and Rachel Robinson lived from 1947-49. It’s less than three miles from Ebbets Field. On this bitterly cold winter day, I found myself sitting there wondering what it was like for him to walk through this door at the end of every day, wake up the next morning, walk back down these steps, get in his car and do it all over again. For me it is unfathomable to even imagine the emotions he must have experienced – anger, fear, sadness, overwhelmed, isolated, rejected, bitter, disrespected.

Jackie Robinson knew he was chosen by Dodgers’ GM Branch Rickey to be the trailblazer to break the color barrier, yet it took more courage, more determination, more perseverance and more restraint than any baseball player had ever been forced to exhibit on and off the diamond. 

I sat there and wondered what the conversations were like between Rachel and Jackie after he returned home from a game. Maybe they sat in the living room simply listening to the radio while little Jackie Jr kept clamoring for their attention. Maybe they ate dinner at the kitchen table and talked about anything but baseball.

Jackie might have worn #42 when he took the field, but it is well documented that Rachel Robinson is as much, or more responsible for his success than anyone or anything else. Without the support and compassion of Rachel, there is a good chance there is no Jackie Robinson like we know today.

Jackie would have walked up and down these steps during that 1947 season when he shattered the glass ceiling and won the National League Rookie of the Year. He might have skipped up these steps on June 24, 1948 when he hit a walk-off grand slam against the Pirates. On the contrary, it might have taken him a few more minutes to walk these steps on October 9, 1949 when the mighty Yankees defeated his Dodgers once again to win the World Series.

We know that the Robinsons struggled to find their place in those early years – both Jackie on the field and them together in the community. There were bound to be a lot of long and lonely nights at this house on Tilden Avenue. Yet we know Jackie developed friendships in the clubhouse that went far beyond the chalk lines of Ebbets Field. This led to he and Rachel finding community among his teammates and their wives, which was an incredible encouragement when they found friends within the Dodgers’ family.

I have nothing to corroborate this with, but as I sat there that day and let my mind wander to what might have taken place in this house, what came to mind is at some point the lonely nights gave way to things like game nights with Carl and Betty Erskine or cookouts with Gil and Joan Hodges.

As I sat there the phrase “if these steps could talk,” just kept repeating in my head over and over again. Of course figuratively they couldn’t, but they said enough to me on that day.

The house has gone through a lot over the years, both private family feuds and public battles to try and preserve the house. (The Robinson’s only rented the house, they did not own it.)  The Historic Landmark Preservation Center placed the red oval plaque beside the front door. Since my visit eight years ago, the house has changed ownership and the exteriror has been renovated. You can read about it here – UnTapped New York: The Jackie Robinson House.

Here are more stories on Simply A Fan’s website about Jackie Robinson:
July 2018: More Than 42
January 2019: 42 Turns 100
April 2020: Where Jackie Stood 
March 2021: 75 Years Ago Today
February 2022: Missing Jackie

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