“Isolation—Society & Baseball”
We are in a strange place at this hour.
So was he, so many years ago.
We are isolated by what happened in China…the virus-crisis.
He was isolated by who he was…his skin color.
I thought of Jackie Robinson throughout the day. It was the 73rd anniversary of his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field, April 15th, 1947.
That was 73-years ago, and as we sat thru day-35 of our isolation in San Diego, I thought about our situation here, his situation there in Gotham.
I have a picture in a frame above my desk. It is from 1949, the Dodgers-vs-Phillies in Brooklyn. It’s Jackie Robinson, in a rundown between 3rd and home. Phillies 3rd baseman Willie Jones in chasing him. SS-Granny Hamner, catcher Andy Seminick, P-Russ Meyer, Eddie Waitkus are all standing in the baseline waiting for the throw.
1-black man, 5-white players, trying to catch him. A perfect picture to describe his life, alone on the base paths. His version of isolation, in baseball, and really in life.
On his debut day against the Boston Braves, he had no hits, made no errors in the 15-fielding chances at first base, and scored the winning run late on a walk, and then an RBI double by a teammate.
Opening day excitement, yes. But an opening day with fear, hate mail, slurs and threats that were part of his everyday existence.
It was the beginning of a tremendous 10-year run by the Dodger.
Life that took him from Georgia, to Pasadena City College, UCLA, the Army, and then the Montreal Royals.
He excelled everywhere, and was a victim everywhere too.
Think about his everyday existence. Virtually ignored by his teammates. Despised by opponents. Living in a white man’s community with white man’s rules, restaurants, hotels. It might have been 1947, but there was racism in the game and racism everyday the sun came up in society.
Despite opening day, and the petition by 10-players who wanted him off the team, he went to work everyday. Despite being in a locker room with racists like Hugh Casey, Bobby Bragan, Dixie Walker, Eddie Stankey, he excelled. Despite the hatred and beanballs and attempts to injure him, by the likes of Enos Slaughter and Ewell Blackwell, he came to work everyday. He survived the indignities of manager Ben Chapman and umpire Jocko Conlan, and played on..
He was 28 when he got to Brooklyn, old for a rookie, but he blazed a trail, as a player and a person. He battled every minute of everyday, on campus, at Ft-Hood, in Montreal, and then in Flatbush.
Jackie Robinson hit (.414) in his loan year with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues..
His rookie season in Montreal, he hit (.349) with 40-stolen bases with the Royals, surviving beanings and brawls in racist hotbeds like Syracuse and Baltimore.
In ten years with the Dodgers, his Hall of Fame numbers showed a (.311) batting average…127-homeruns…734-RBIs…197-stolen bases…72-hit by pitches and only 291-strikeouts in 5,804-plate appearances. He did all that wondering if the next pitch was to get him out or to his head.
The people in his corner soon exited. Branch Rickey removed, manager Leo Durocher-suspended, and Commissioner Happy Chandler ousted. Were it not for teammates like Ralph Branca, Gene Hermanski and Pee Wee Reese, who knew if he could have survived that first game, that first season.
Life drained him and the Dodgers tried to trade him to the New York Giants for Dick Littlefield after the 1956-season. He walked away and sold his retirement story to a magazine. He never said good bye to Walter O’Malley, who a year later moved that franchise from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
He had a successful business career, helped in politics, pioneered all things to lead for racial equality. His foundation carries on to help others if life still today. He died at 53-blind of sight, diabetic in body.
Below you will see how the 9-newspapers in New York covered his debut. They would write more as the years progressed and he left his mark on the sport he loved and the society he lived in.
On this special day, sitting in my corner office in quarantine, I think about isolation.
I look up at that Dodgers-Phillies picture of the black man being chased in the base paths by those white players, and I think about the real isolation Jackie Robinson had to live with, everyday of that Dodgers career.
He changed the game forever, and baseball retired “42” in memory of all he gave and all he accomplished.
Our society is reeling from the illness. Think about how tough it was on Jackie Robinson, and his form of isolation.
A look back at how the New York newspapers covered Jackie Robinson’s debut.
BROOKLYN (AP) — Pete Reiser, key to Brooklyn’s flag chances, blazed a seventh-inning double off the screen a foot inside the right-field foul line at Ebbets Field today to drive across the tying and winning runs as the pilotless Dodgers opened their 1947 campaign with a 5-to-3 victory over the Boston Braves.
Although he did not get a hit in four official times at bat, Jackie Robinson, first Negro to play in modern big league ball, signalized his official debut as a Dodger by sprinting home with the deciding run on Reiser’s smash and playing perfect ball at first base.
By Gayle Talbot
The Associated Press
BROOKLYN (AP) — If Jackie Robinson felt his nerves jumping or was even conscious that he was about to take part in a momentous baseball event, he kept his feeling remarkably well concealed.
Jackie, the first negro to play in a modern big league game, stood around and chatted easily with all comers as his club, the Dodgers, and the opposing Boston Braves took turns warming up for yesterday’s opener. He grinned wide when asked if he felt any “butterflies” in his stomach.
“Not a one,” he demurred. “I wish I could say I did, because then maybe I’d have an alibi if I don’t do so good. But I won’t be able to use that as an alibi.”
The former U.C.L.A. star sounded as though he meant it very much — that he wanted more than anything else to stand or fail on his own merits as a player, right from the start. He was asked if he had detected any difference thus far between big league play and the minor league variety.
“Plenty,” he said without hesitation, “up here,” he tapped his temple a couple of times. “There’s a big difference, believe me. They’re thinking all the time on this team.”
How did he like playing first-base, a position totally strange to him up to a few weeks ago?
“Fine, fine,” the 28-year-old negro insisted. “I’ve still got an awful lot to learn about it, but I’m glad to play anywhere they want me to. First isn’t as easy, though, as some people think it is.
“What I need more than anything right now,” he went on, abruptly changing the subject, “Is an apartment. I’d like to get one over here in Brooklyn if I can. I’ve got my wife and baby boy in a hotel in New York, and when the boy cries at night all we can do is get up and walk with him. That isn’t good.”
It was obvious in the opener that Brooklyn fans mean to do everything possible to make their first negro player feel welcome. Every time he came to bat yesterday he was warmly applauded by the stands as a whole, and when he reached in the boxes to make a nice catch of a foul he was similarly awarded.
International News Service
NEW YORK — For the first time in baseball history a Negro played in a major league game today.
The Negro was Jackie Robinson, first-baseman of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who helped his team defeat the Boston Braves 5 to 3.
The Dodgers, minus their manager, Leo Durocher, staged a three-run rally in the seventh to give Hal Gregg the decision over Johnny Sain.
By Roscoe McGowen
The New York Times
Even without Skipper Leo Durocher, the good ship “Dodger” proved yesterday that it could sail safely into port, although slightly storm-battered in the process.
Managed by Clyde Sukeforth, skipper pro tem, who sent eighteen of his crew into action, the Brooks docked just ahead of the Boston Braves and are sharing the National League lead today — if it never happens again.
Flatbush fans, 26,623 of them, who watched their favorite team rally to win, 5-3, had no problem about dividing their cheers. All of them went to an old hero, Pistol Pete Reiser, who has heard that roar of acclaim so many times.
(Robinson mentioned only in play-by-play in sixth and 16th paragraphs)
By Arthur Daley
The New York Times
(second half of his column)
The debut of Jackie Robinson was quite uneventful, even though he had the unenviable distinction of snuffing out a rally by hitting into a remarkable double play. His dribbler through the box in the fifth should have gone for a safety, but Dick Culler, playing in on the grass, made a diving stop, threw to second for a force while prostrate on the ground, and Connie Ryan nailed the fleet Robbie at first for a dazzling twin killing.
The muscular Negro minds his own business and shrewdly makes no effort to push himself. He speaks quietly and intelligently when spoken to and already has made a strong impression. “I was nervous in the first play of my first game at Ebbets Field,” he said with his ready grin, “but nothing has bothered me since.”
A veteran Dodger said of him, “Having Jackie on the team is still a little strange, just like anything else that’s new. We just don’t know how to act with him. But he’ll be accepted in time. You can be sure of that. Other sports have had Negroes. Why not baseball? I’m for him, if he can win games. That’s the only test I ask.” And that seems to be the general opinion.
Robinson’s tremendous speed afoot did accomplish one thing, since it set up the winning run which he personally carried home. His deft sacrifice bunt was so well placed that Earl Torgeson had to make a hurried throw to Ryan at the bag. And his shot caromed off a Robinson shoulder blade into right field to give both runners an extra base. Then Pete Reiser doubled them both home.
By Bob Cooke
New York Herald Tribune
The Brooklyn Dodgers, still without a permanent leader, found an adequate one for their opener yesterday when they grouped themselves behind Pete Reiser, their winged-footed outfielder, who encircled the Boston Braves with as much ease as he did the bases.
Reiser scored three runs and drove in two more as Brooklyn staged a snappy world premiere with the kind cooperation of the Bostonians. The score was 5 to 3, and it was Reiser who added up the totals.
A solemn crowd of 26,623 customers looked on, none of whom could be accused of relationship to the normal Ebbets Field fan who is frequently guilty of conduct unbecoming to the other boroughs. Both teams were politely cheered when the lineups were announced and John Cashmore, Brooklyn Borough President, was given a timid reception when he threw out the first ball.
The game was played in an atmosphere of stillness interrupted only by the patter of Reiser’s feet.
A number of observers had been attracted by the presence of Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn’s Negro first baseman, but as the innings passed it was all any one could do to keep their eyes on Reiser.
Robinson fielded his position admirably, but was held hitless in three attempts. He rapped into a double play in the fifth with runners on first and third.
By Red Smith
New York Herald Tribune
Baseball, a game invented in Brooklyn by Larry MacPhail and refined to extreme lengths by Leo Durocher, returned to its birthplace yesterday with both its foster parents missing. Also missing were about 5,800 critters whose absence was unexplained. In spite of honey-and-gold weather, only 26,623 of Ebbets Field’s 32,500 seats were occupied, and there were wide, piebald patches of untented pews in left field. This gave rise of to a rumor considered widely implausible in some quarters — that Durocher has 5,800 friends in Brooklyn. …
However, Hatten, helped himself with a skillful play on a grounder by Danny Litwhiler when the Braves were threatening in the fourth, and he might have got through all the way if Jackie Robinson could have aided him in the fifth innings.
That dark and anxious young man had grounded out the first time he faced Johnny Sain and flied out the second. Now he came up for the third time, with two runners on and one out. He seemed frantic with eagerness, restless as a can of worms.
He fouled off the first pitch. Phil Masi, the Boston catcher, caught it but knocked himself goggle-eyed against the Braves dugout and dropped the ball. Robinson took a called strike on the outside corner, then rapped a bleeder toward second which looked like a sure hit for a man of his speed.
Cutler, however, dived on the ball, scooped it to Connie Ryan, who tagged second and beat Robbie with a throw to first for a double play. Robinson kicked up dirt with his spikes but made no protest.
By Dick Young
New York Daily News
It has been said quite often of Pete Reiser, and by no less a person than Branch Rickey, that the kid is somewhat of a “hypo,” meaning hypochondriac. Maybe so, but to the Brooks he’s a hypo, meaning stimulant, and he wasted no time proving it again this season by breaking the Brooks on top of the NL pack with a masterful one-man show in yesterday’s 5-3 opening-day victory over the Braves.
In his debut, Jackie Robinson, the majors’ most-discussed rookie, fielded flawlessly at first base but went hitless in three official trips to the plate. He rolled out to third in the first, lofted a soft fly to left in the third, rifled a hot double-play grounder to short to close out the fifth, and then scored the winning tally on Reiser’s seventh-inning double, after reaching on a sacrifice-error by the Braves’ rookie counterpart — Earl Torgeson.
By Michael Gavan
New York Journal-American
The name of the new Brooklyn manager was of comparatively small interest in Flatbush today. Just as long as Pete Reiser can hit the ball and scamper around the bases as he did in the opening game what difference does it make who battles the umpires!
Potentially, the best ball player in the business, Pistol Pete could even mean a pennant if he could escape injury and play every day. He’s that good. Fitting example of a healthy Reiser’s unestimable value was provided in the glorious inaugural triumph over the Braves.
(Robinson not mentioned in story)
By Bill Roder
New York World-Telegram
EBBETS FIELD — Minus last year’s manager and coaches, the Dodgers opened the season here today in the first of three games against the Boston Braves, with Clyde Sukeforth as pro tem pilot.
The Dodgers won, 5-3.
Before a near sellout throng of 31,000 lefty Joe Hatten pitched against 20-game winner Johnny Sain.
Jackie Robinson, first Negro to play in the majors, was on first base for the Dodgers and a newcomer of less than 24 hours, Johnny Jorgenson, was on third base. Jorgenson was purchased last night from the farm in Montreal.
(The following day)
By Bill Roeder
New York World-Telegram
Have the Dodgers gone sane? That’s what Brooklyn fans were asking one another today as they praised Clyde (Pro Tem) Sukeforth’s first managerial performance and reviewed it comparatively, play by play, in terms of what Leo Durocher would have done.
Some of the fans thought they detected a rare element of cautious baseball in Sukeforth’s 5-3 opening day victory over the Braves. Are the fans right or wrong? The answer: yes and no. …
… Howard Schultz replaced Jackie Robinson at first base in the ninth inning.
Sukeforth said he ran Tom Taum for Dixie Walker in the sixth inning, when the Dodgers were behind, because speed was required as a precaution against the double play. “We have so many good players on our team that I could afford to make a move like that,” Sukey explained.
Reiser, whose two hits, three runs scored and two driven in represented Brooklyn’s effective offense in toto, had a reassuring word for Robinson, who went hitless his first game in the big leagues. “He’ll be all right,” Pete volunteered. “He’ll steady down and he’ll be fine.” Sukeforth had the same to say about the other rookie, Johnny Jorgenson, the overnight regular at third base.
By Arch Murray
The New York Post
Ebbets Field — With their lost leader a forlorn figure in California and nobody exactly eager for his old job, the Durocherless Dodgers started out today on the quest that failed a year ago. As Leo himself used to put it, they’ll be out after the Cardinals all over again.
Billy Southworth’s resurgent Braves — the same club that knocked them out of the 1946 pennant on the last day of the season — furnished the initial opposition before a sellout house at Ebbets Field. But the world champion Redbirds, heavily favored to repeat, will be the main target as old.
Joe Hatten, sophomore southpaw who beat the Bostons four times last year without defeat, opened on the mound with Johnny Sain, curve-balling 20-game winner, as his opponent. Jackie Robinson, the first colored boy ever to don major league flannels, started at first base and batted second for the Dodgers.