Jackie Robinson

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Jackie Robinson : biography

31 January 1919 – 24 October 1972

Major leagues

Breaking the color barrier (1947)

The following year, six days before the start of the 1947 season, the Dodgers called Robinson up to the major leagues. With Eddie Stanky entrenched at second base for the Dodgers, Robinson played his initial major league season as a first baseman. On April 15, 1947, Robinson made his major league debut at Ebbets Field before a crowd of 26,623 spectators, including more than 14,000 black patrons. Although he failed to get a base hit, he walked and scored a run in the Dodgers’ 5-3 victory.McNeil, p. 357. Robinson became the first player since 1880 to openly break the major league baseball color line. Black fans began flocking to see the Dodgers when they came to town, abandoning their Negro league teams.

Robinson’s promotion met a generally positive, although mixed, reception among newspapers and white major league players.For a general survey of the media reaction to Robinson at various phases of his career, see and subpages. Retrieved on July 8, 2009. However, racial tension existed in the Dodger clubhouse. Some Dodger players insinuated they would sit out rather than play alongside Robinson. The brewing mutiny ended when Dodgers management took a stand for Robinson. Manager Leo Durocher informed the team, "I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin’ zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded."Kirwin, p. 198.

Robinson was also derided by opposing teams. Some, notably the St. Louis Cardinals, threatened to strike if Robinson played. After the threat, National League President Ford Frick and Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler let it be known that any striking players would be suspended.Kirwin, p. 199.Eig, p. 95.Bryant, p. 70. Robinson nonetheless became the target of rough physical play by opponents (particularly the Cardinals). At one time, he received a seven-inch gash in his leg from Enos Slaughter. On April 22, 1947, during a game between the Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies, Phillies players and manager Ben Chapman called Robinson a "nigger" from their dugout and yelled that he should "go back to the cotton fields".Williams, p. 9. Rickey later recalled that Chapman "did more than anybody to unite the Dodgers. When he poured out that string of unconscionable abuse, he solidified and united thirty men."

Robinson did, however, receive significant encouragement from several major league players. Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese once came to Robinson’s defense with the famous line, "You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them." In 1948, Reese put his arm around Robinson in response to fans who shouted racial slurs at Robinson before a game in Cincinnati. A statue by sculptor William Behrends, unveiled at KeySpan Park on November 1, 2005, commemorates this event by representing Reese with his arm around Robinson. Jewish baseball star Hank Greenberg, who had to deal with racial epithets during his career, also encouraged Robinson. Following an incident where Greenberg collided with Robinson at first base, he "whispered a few words into Robinson’s ear", which Robinson later characterized as "words of encouragement." Greenberg had advised him to overcome his critics by defeating them in games. Robinson also talked frequently with Larry Doby, who endured his own hardships since becoming the first black player in the American League with the Cleveland Indians, as the two spoke to one another via telephone throughout the season.

Robinson finished the season having played in 151 games for the Dodgers, with a batting average of .297, an on-base percentage of .383, and a .427 slugging percentage. He had 175 hits (scoring 125 runs) including 31 doubles, 5 triples, 12 home runs, driving in 48 runs for the year. Robinson led the league in sacrifice hits, with 28, and in stolen bases, with 29.Eig, p. 224. His cumulative performance earned him the inaugural Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year Award (separate National and American League Rookie of the Year honors were not awarded until 1949).