A final wish for Doc Rodgers, key figure in Cincy pro sports

A few thoughts on a person everyone in Cincinnati sports should thank, honor and remember:

Darrell "Doc," Rodgers' death didn't stun me. But the date did.

May 13.

Long before cancer ravaged him, Doc and I talked about that date in 1997. I think it was the day before the 50th anniversary. Or maybe it was that day. As a reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer, I wanted to know if the Reds' new assistant general manager could talk about the significance of the date.

He most certainly would and he was more than delighted to talk about it for publication.

May 13, 1947. The first game of the second road series during Jackie Roosevelt Robinson's Rookie of the Year season he broke the color line and become the major leagues' first African-American player. His first game in Cincinnati at Crosley Field.

 Doc Rodgers knew his history and his place in it and if he was humbled he was also determined.

Six years before the Bengals hired head coach Marvin Lewis and a decade before the Reds tapped Dusty Baker to manage, Rodgers became Cincinnati's first African-American pro executive in the two major sports. In the swim of context in 1997, it was historic. It will be recalled Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium is where Robinson made his last public remarks in 1972 calling on baseball to hire a black manager and now a black man had been named to the Reds front office.

Rodgers more than understood the significance. After all, he had lived it spending six journeyman years in the minors as a pitcher and a few more as a pitching coach before rising to become the Tigers director of baseball operations in 1996, a time when minorities barely populated the halls of power.

I don't remember much about the story. All I really remember is the date. May 13, 1947. May 13, 1997. And I guess a big reason I remember is because Doc was very kind  when I saw him a few days later. He told me about another reporter that called him on the same story and he chortled, "I told him, 'Hobson beat you to it.'"

I've been thinking about that a lot today. That must have meant it meant something to him.

I do recall that Rodgers was grateful for the trail that Robinson blazed and awed by all that he overcame. Doc also was appreciative of the shot the Reds gave him and he realized he had the same kind of responsibility as Robinson. He was humble and wise and funny, much like he was the other handful of times I dealt with him over the next three years.

After he left the Reds and I left The Enquirer, our paths crossed only once, at a TV show. But he was the same guy, just so pleasant, so soft-spoken, and so tough as he battled his way. While I did my Bengals interview, he patiently waited, suppressed his raspy cough, and went on air as coolly if he'd just been called in from the bullpen.

My wife, a huge Reds fan, was shaken with the news on the morning of this 13th. She knew him from his days as the host of the Reds' post-game show.

"I liked Doc," she said. "He was my friend on the radio."

 I liked Doc, too. He got it. He knew what it meant to have the job he did in the game he loved. He should always be remembered in Cincinnati as one of Jackie Robinson's pioneers.

Now that he's left us on this May 13, it almost seems as if someone has gently reminded us.  There are dates we're born and dates we die, but there is never an expiration date if you're blazing a trail.

Doc, happy anniversary.

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