The Brooklyn Dodgers had a losing record in 1947, but Jackie Robinson was an instant sensation. This rookie season documented the racial discrimination he faced and how it changed him as a human being.
Jackie Robinson’s rookie season was a joy and a loneliness. The joy of being the first African-American to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball, but also the loneliness of being an outcast. Read more in detail here: jackie robinson stats.
Note from the editor: “If You Were Jackie Robinson” initially appeared in the September 1947 edition of SPORT magazine, during Jackie Robinson’s debut season in the big leagues. It is being published here to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Robinson’s debut, which occurred on April 15 of that year. For clarity and space, it has been modified and condensed.
It was a Saturday night at St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park, where the once-common habit of playing major league baseball games in the afternoon sun has become as archaic as the horse and buggy since the discovery that an outdoor sports stadium can be lit as well as your living room.
The world champion Brooklyn Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals played a one-sided National League game, with the world champions scoring seven runs and the legendary Brooklyn Bums scoring none.
As the sixth inning began, the Dodgers were still attempting in vain to add to their meager three singles and advance a runner to second base.
On the mound for the Cardinals, Harry (The Cat) Brecheen, winner of three World Series games in 1946, was enjoying a great year. He screwballed and soft balled the Dodgers into submission inning after inning.
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In the sixth inning, Jackie Robinson came to bat with one man out. He topped a leaping ball between the mound and first base with a strong swing. Brecheen, true to his moniker, flew off the rubber and fielded the ball in a straight path to the bag.
Brecheen circled back and over to the base line, half-crouched to meet Robinson and tag him out with the ball in both extended hands, rather than making the conventional play of throwing the ball to Stan Musial for the putout.
That was the first open “incident” on the field in the just began, undoubtedly incomplete, and maybe great major-league career of the first Black player ever to play for a major-league team in baseball’s modern history.
What would you have done if you were Jackie Robinson?
Being human, as this clever young guy undoubtedly is, you would have responded similarly to him, but with less discipline. He came to a complete halt and accepted the tag, but not before softly remarking to Brecheen: “You must play your role as it should be played. I’ll put you on the seat of your trousers if you do it again.”
Only five days later, at Mr. Wrigley’s gorgeous ballpark in Chicago, Robinson hit to lead off the ninth inning of the Bruins’ fourth consecutive loss — and none of them were in the least bit pleased.
Robinson stole second base with one out after irritating big Bill Lee, the gorgeous veteran righthander from Plaquemine, Louisiana, with his feints off first base. After Jackie had safely moved into second, Lee made multiple attempts to take him out. The bag was covered by Cub shortstop Len Merullo.
Jackie squeezed between Merullo’s knees to safety in one tight play. Merullo was astride the prostrate Dodger first baseman, and the two men were almost entwined. Merullo looked to kick Robinson with his right leg as he elevated it. Robinson seemed to make a retaliatory action with his left arm very quickly.
With approximately 20,000 supporters in attendance, as well as players from both clubs, the scene was tense.
Nothing more occurred after that, with both lads rising to their feet and the game continuing without incident.
Would you have been able to maintain your cool if you were Jackie Robinson?
Many baseball fans and players believe, whether correctly or not, that Robinson’s entry into the big leagues will be explosive. They cite occurrences like the two above as proof that an explosion is unavoidable. Cleveland’s employment of Larry Doby, another Black star, has only contributed to their anxieties.
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If you were Jackie Robinson, though, the lovely things the press reported about you would make you very happy. When you read sentences like these, which appeared lately in Ed Sullivan’s New York Daily News column and were syndicated all across America, you’d get a particular feeling: “Even Dixie Walker has been charmed over by Jackie Robinson, who now provides the great hitting advice! Stanky has been quite helpful in explaining how to play batters to him.”
If you were Jackie Robinson, you’d observe that there were less “incidents” every day, and that you were receiving better breaks from the spectators, players, and press every day. More and more radio presenters, such as Red Barber, would go out of their way to talk positively about you on the air.
And news stories like the Cleveland Indians’ acquisition of Larry Doby, another Black ace, and the St. Louis Browns’ addition of Willard Brown and Henry Thompson would make you feel terrific all over. You’d know then that the labor you put into paving the path for people of your race to play in big league baseball wasn’t in vain.
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