A Baseball Day to Remember

Posted by on March 5th, 2015  •  1 Comment  • 

On this day, the first steps were taken to change baseball history.  On this day, in Daytona Beach, Florida, the game would forever begin to evolve..  On this day, the gates were opened and a flood of talent would begin flowing to the grand old game.
On this day in 1946,  Jackie Robinson put on his first professional baseball uniform, working out for the first time with the Montreal Royals, the top farm club of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
We have read about Robinson, we have seen the most recent movie “42” about his trials and tribulations crossing the color line, but we’ll really never know, nor understand how hard it was physically, and even more so emotionally, and the toll it too on him over the next decade, before his career ended so abruptly.
We have seen history of violence against blacks in the deep south, the killings of the Freedom Riders in Mississippi, the KKK-cross burnings, the bloody march across the bridge in Selma, Alabama.
The debut of Jackie Robison was so different.  The intent was still the same, but instead of a night-stick from police chief Bull Connor, or the racial hate spewed by Governor George Wallace, or bombs in churches in Montgomery, it was beanballs, threats, and an unwelcome feeling every minute of every day.
The International League was spread up and down the Eastern Seaboard.  Jersey City, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Syracuse, Newark, Buffalo, Rochester and Toronto.  Racism in those cities, including those in the North, still existed.  There were opposing players, fans on the road, even biased umpires.
The Montreal Royals were managed by Clay Hopper, born and bred in Greenwood, Mississippi, a state where hatred of Negroes was a way of life.
His teammates included a longtime deep south Alabaman, Dixie Walker, who looked down on coloreds.  The top two hitters on the team, Marvin Rackley and Lew Riggs, were good old boys, from South Carolina and North Carolina.
Walker was outspoken, the others were silent, possibly put in their place by Brooklyn GM-Branch Rickey.  Imagine however how uncomfortable, how lonely at times that clubhouse must have been, the silence on the bus trips, and the air in the dugouts.
Montreal was a cosmopolitan city, diverse, dynamic, well-to-do, and they took to Robinson right from the get-go.  But the ball yard was not an easy place.
That first year was just a trial run for what 1947 would be all about, when Robinson got to Brooklyn to play first base.  He had already had a life full of experiences, by the time he got to the Royals camp at age 27, from UCLA thru the army tour of duty. 
Robinson dominated that 1946 season, hitting (.349) with 40-stolen bases, an a (.468) on base percentage.  He changed the way the game was played, hitting, fielding, stealing bases, and creating runs.
His closest teammate would be Spider Jorgenson, who wound up going with him to Brooklyn the next season.  Robinson made everyone around him better, in fact, the Royals had 8-hitters with batting averages of (.285) or better.
Oddly, also on that roster were players who would eventually wind up in the major leagues, as front office execs, Bob Fontaine with the Padres, the legendary Al Campanis, himself a minority (Cuban) with the Dodgers, and future Giants manager Herman Franks.
When they were done, the Royals went (100-54) and won the Little World Series.  
Robinson set standards nobody would ever eclipse in that top minor league during that given season.  His successes in Brooklyn would be recorded forever for mankind, in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
But on this day, the journey began, the good times on the field, the toughest of times in the clubhouse, and worst times on the road.  We can document his career by his stats, but the intangibles of the man are as important as the numbers put up by the player.
We often use the words like courage and strength, dedication and toughness, resolve and ambition.  They all sum up what the man was all about, and what started on this day in 1946, for the Montreal Royal, future Brooklyn Dodger, and maybe the greatest ambassador baseball ever had, Jack Roosevelt Robinson…  
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One Response to “A Baseball Day to Remember”

  1. California Native says:

    BEAUTIFUL ARTICLE! Well written and it definitely says exactly what has been passed down for generations from the mouths of the players and their families that were THERE during these times!


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