By Glen Sparks
Jackie Robinson made his major-league debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. He went 0-for-3, a modest start. He also changed baseball and America in that game against the Boston Braves. Learn a little bit more about the amazing life of this amazing man:
- Born Jan. 31, 1919, in Cairo, Ga., Jack Roosevelt Robinson grew up in Pasadena, Calif. His middle name was in honor of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, who died 25 days before Robinson was born.
- Robinson starred in sports at John Muir High School in Pasadena. He lettered in football, basketball, baseball and track. He also won the junior boys singles championship at the annual Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament in 1936.
- Following a standout two-year career at Pasadena Junior College, Robinson transferred to UCLA. Like he did at Muir, Robinson earned varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball and track with the Bruins. He hit .097 in his one season on the UCLA baseball squad.
- Robinson’s teammates on the UCLA football team included Woody Strode and Kenny Washington, two of the first African-American players of the modern era to sign contracts with an NFL team. Both signed with the Los Angeles Rams.
- Robinson, winner of the long-jump competition at the 1940 NCAA Men’s Track and Field Championships, played semi-pro football with the Honolulu Bears and Los Angeles Bulldogs of the Pacific Coast Football League.
- Drafted in 1942, Jackie Robinson served in World War II as a second lieutenant. He was court-martialed after refusing an order from the driver to sit in the back of the bus in Texas. A panel of nine white officers acquitted him.
- While serving as athletic director and men’s basketball coach at Sam Huston College (now, Huston-Tillitson University) in Austin, Texas, Robinson received a letter from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues. The team wanted to sign the former .097 college hitter. Robinson began playing for $400 a month. He batted .387 in 1945, hit five homers and stole 13 bases in 47 games.
- Branch Rickey began scouting for African-American players in 1945. The announcement of Robinson’s signing with Brooklyn came Oct. 23, 1945. Soon after, Jackie reported to the Montreal Royals of the International League. The Sporting News, the so-called bible of Baseball, did not predict big things: “The waters of competition in the International League will flood far over his head.”5
- Robinson made his major-league debut on April 15, 1947. He went 0-for-3 and changed the game and America. The 28-year-old went on to hit 12 home runs, drove in 48 and batted .297 in his first campaign. He also led the National League with 29 stolen bases. Baseball writers voted him the N.L. Rookie of the Year.
- A key part of the fabled Boys of Summer squads in Brooklyn (Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, etc.), No. 42 won N.L. MVP honors in 1949. He hit a league-leading .342 with 124 RBI and scored 122 runs. He collected 203 hits and topped the senior circuit in stolen bases for a second time (37).
- Over a 10-year career, Robinson batted a robust .311 with an impressive .409 on-base percentage. He hit 137 home runs and drove in 734. The talented base thief retired with 197 steals. Robinson scored at least 100 runs six times and 99 runs another year.
- Robinson finished in the top five in MVP voting four times and in the top 16 a total of eight times. Despite playing only a decade in the majors, he finished with a life-time WAR of 61.5 (baseball-reference.com), with totals over 7.0 in five seasons. He topped out at 9.7 in 1951. Three times, Robinson led the N.L. in WAR. He made six All-Star squads. Bill James rated him the 32nd greatest player of all-time in his 2003 Historical Baseball Abstract.
- Blessed with a good eye, Robinson walked 740 times. He only struck out 291 times. Jackie crowded the plate, liked to run and was a wonder on the bases. He stole home 19 times, tied with Frankie Frisch for tops among post-World War I players. Versatile, Robinson played at least 150 games at second base (748), third base (256), first base (197) and left field (150).
- “Give me five players like Robinson and a pitcher and I’ll beat any nine-man team in baseball.” – Brooklyn Dodgers Manager Chuck Dressen
- Following several losses in the World Series, Brooklyn finally won it all in 1955. Robinson endured his worst year. He registered career lows in games played (105), homers (eight), RBI (36) and batting average (.256).
- Post-retirement, Robinson worked several years as an executive at Chock full of Nuts coffee company. He also did some broadcasting on ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week and even served as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the Continental Football League in 1972.
- The writers elected Robinson to the Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year on the ballot. Robinson had asked that voters only consider his accomplishments on the field.
- Off the field, the retired player helped start a commercial bank in Harlem and founded the Jackie Robinson Construction Co. to build housing for low-income families. He spoke out on civil rights issues as a political independent.
- Afflicted with diabetes, Robinson died of a heart attack on Oct. 24, 1972, at the age of 53. His funeral service three days later at Riverside Church in New York City attracted 2,500 mourners.
- Baseball retired Robinson’s No. 42 on April 15, 1997. The New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera was the last player to wear the number. Rivera retire at the end of the 2013 season.
- “Every time I look at my pocketbook, I see Jackie Robinson. – Willie Mays
- “He struck a mighty blow for equality, freedom and the American way of life. Jackie Robinson was a good citizen, a great man, and a true American champion.” – President Ronald Reagan
- “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson
By Glen Sparks
Jackie Robinson retired rather than play for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ arch-rival, the New York Giants.
That’s the myth, anyway. The reality is a little different.
Yes, the Dodgers traded Robinson, the first African-American player in modern baseball history, to the Giants on Dec. 12, 1956. (Exact dates differ.) Brooklyn General Manager Buzzie Bavasi engineered the deal. He got left-handed relief pitcher Dick Littlefield and $35,000 in return from the Giants.
Reporters pounced on the story. Few athletes enjoyed the popularity of Robinson. He played 10 seasons in Brooklyn following a distinguished career in the Negro leagues and at UCLA (baseball, football, basketball and tennis).
No. 42 hit .311 as a Dodger with a .409 on-base percentage. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1947 and the league MVP in 1949. Robinson played on six pennant-winning teams and the world championship squad in 1955.
Bavasi’s trade news upset Robinson, according to the 1997 biography Jackie Robinson by Arnold Rampersad. He put up a good front, though, and told Horace Stoneham, president of the Giants, that he looked forward to joining the Giants in upper Manhattan.
Robinson remarked to one reporter, according to the Rampersad book, “I’m going to do everything I can to beat them (the Dodgers) next year.”
Robinson, in truth, already had decided to retire. He had played just in 117 games in ’56 due to injuries. He still hit a respectable .275 (.382 on-base percentage); his body, though, felt much older than his 37 years.
William H. Black, the president of Chock Full o’ Nuts, offered Robinson a job. Would you be interested in working for my company as director of personnel, Black asked. Robinson mulled it over, took a tour of Chock Full o’ Nuts in New York City, met with Black a few more times and decided, yes, he’d take the job. (Chock Full is still around. It’s actually a coffee company. Black originally founded a series of shelled nut shops. Later, he began offering coffee.)
Look magazine held the exclusive rights to the Robinson retirement story. Its next issue wouldn’t be coming out until Jan. 8, 1957. That left lots of lead time for double-talk. Not surprisingly, word of the trade leaked out. Robinson wrote a letter on Jan. 14 to Stoneham (who was to pay his new ballplayer $35,000):
“I am going to devote my full time to the business opportunities that have been presented. … I assure you that my retirement has nothing to do with my trade to your organization.”
Robinson stayed at Chock Full o’ Nuts for just more than seven years. He officially resigned from the company on Feb. 28, 1964, to work as a deputy national director for Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential campaign.
By Glen Sparks
Goodbye, Judge. Hello, Happy.
On this date in 1945, Baseball owners voted for Albert Benjamin “Happy” Chandler to take over as the game’s second-ever commissioner. The first, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, a former federal judge, died on Nov. 20, 1944.
Landis, famous for his thick set of wavy white hair and near-absolute authority, served the game for nearly a quarter century. Owners appointed him in 1920 to fix baseball’s ills following the Black Sox scandal. The Chicago White Sox (or, the Black Sox) threw the 1919 Series for money. Landis kicked the dirty players out of baseball.
The Judge, as people called him (Some called him the Squire.), cracked down on gambling, fought with Babe Ruth and kept baseball going even after the U.S. went to war on Dec. 7, 1941. “We’ll play as long as we can put nine men on the field,” Landis said as spring training began.
Landis’ death at age 78 left a void. His biographer, J.G. Taylor Spink, wrote that “[Landis] may have been arbitrary, self-willed and even unfair, but he ‘called ’em as he saw ’em.’”
Enter Happy Chandler. Or, as he was known as at the time of the owner’s vote, U.S. Sen. Chandler, D-Ky., formerly the governor of that commonwealth. The Chandler name, though. did not appear on the initial voting ballot. (Candidates included National League President Ford Frick, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover and several others.)
No candidate could get the needed two/thirds vote. Finally, the owners added Chandler’s name to the mix and quickly found the next head of major league baseball. (Many owners liked Happy’s D.C. connections.) And, the controversies began almost right away. Chandler stayed in the Senate for several months, supposedly so he could vote on some important impending bills. He didn’t really take over as commissioner until Nov. 1, missing out on the World Series.
Writers and other sophisticates also didn’t care for Chandler’s folksy manner. He liked to tell country stories and sing My Old Kentucky Home in front of audiences big and small. Chandler was a “Kentucky windbag,” some said.
But, in the spring of 1947, Chandler did the right thing. He did something the powerful Judge Landis could never do. Landis said during his tenure that “signing black players is all right with me.” But, it never happened. Some critics still blame Landis for keeping the majors an all-white league for nearly half the 20th century.
Branch Rickey formally signed Jackie Robinson on Nov. 1, 1945, about six months into Chandler’s tenure and nearly one year after Landis’ death. Rickey signed the future No. 42 to a big-league contract just before the 1947 season. Chandler could have voided the contract; it was within his power. Instead, he supported the integration of baseball.
Chandler’s tenure as commissioner lasted just one term, about six years. He later ran for and won a second term as Kentucky governor from 1955-59. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, he died June 15, 1991, age 92.
Don Newcombe, one of the early African-American players, explained the legacy of Happy Chandler. The commissioner from Kentucky, Newcombe said in an article about Chandler on the Hall of Fame web site, cared about black players “when it wasn’t fashionable.”
By Glen Sparks
“Above anything else, I hate to lose.” – Jackie Robinson
- Born Jan. 31, 1919, in Cairo, Ga., Jack Roosevelt Robinson grew up in Pasadena, Calif. He played football, basketball, baseball and ran track at UCLA.
- Robinson’s middle name is in honor of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, who died less than a month before Jackie was born.
- Robinson made the Negro League All-Star team in 1945 as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs. He formally signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization on Nov. 1, 1945. In 1946, as a member of the Montreal Royals minor league club, Robinson was named International League MVP.
- In his big-league debut season of 1947, Robinson scored a career-high 125 runs and batted .297 with a .383 on-base percentage. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award.
- Robinson led the N.L. in batting average (.342) and stolen bases (37), both career highs, in his MVP year of 1949. That season, he also set career highs in hits (203) and RBI (124).
- Robinson finished first in the N.L. in on-base percentage (.440) in 1952. From 1949 through 1954, he got on base more than 40 percent of the time in every season. He drew 740 walks in his career and struck out just 291 times.
“Jackie Robinson was the best athlete ever to play Major League Baseball.” – Ralph Kiner
- Robinson led the league in Wins above Replacement (WAR) for position players in 1949 (9.6), 1951 (9.7) and 1952 (8.5).
- In 1952, Robinson finished first among position players in defensive WAR (2.4). He finished in the top six in that category six times in his career.
- Robinson made the All-Star team every year from 1949 through 1954.
- Initially a first baseman (197 games) with the Dodgers, Robinson later played second base (748), shortstop (one game, Sept. 22, 1953. Pee Wee Reese needed a day off.), third base (256 games) and outfield (162 games, mostly in left).
- Robinson retired following the 1956 season. He had 137 home runs, 734 RBI, a .311 batting average and a .409 on-base percentage.
“(Jackie Robinson) was the only player I ever saw in a rundown who could be safe more often than out. He ran as if his head was on a swizzle, back and forth, back and forth, until he could get out of it.” – Bobby Bragan
- The Baseball Writers Association of America voted Robinson into the Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year on the ballot.
- Active in various civil rights efforts after his retirement, Robinson also suffered from health problems, including diabetes. He died Oct. 24, 1972. He was only 53 years old.
- Baseball retired Robinson’s No. 42 before the start of the 1997 season. Players who already were wearing the number could keep it. Mariano Rivera, the great New York Yankee reliever, was the last player to wear 42 as an everyday number. He retired after the 2013 season.
- Every April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day in baseball. All players may wear No. 42.
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson
(Red Reilly is a fictitious character who works for a fictitious radio station. This is Reilly’s second appearance in the Dazzy Vance Chronicles. You can read the first Reilly post here.)
By Glen Sparks
The “Red” Reilly Sports Report
“Good morning, sports fans. This is Red Reilly, your roving correspondent with the American Radio Sports Network. I’m in the busy borough of Brooklyn, in the shadows of the great Manhattan skyscrapers. Fans, players and reporters alike will be watching history on opening day 1947 here at Ebbets Field today.
Jackie Robinson will be in the line-up playing first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers against the Boston Braves. He will become the first black man to play in a major league baseball game in the 20th century. Branch Rickey and the Dodgers signed Robinson to a big league contract just last week. Robinson played last season for the Montreal Royals, a top farm club for the Dodgers. He did quite well north of the border. Robinson batted .349 and was named Most Valuable Player of the International League.
Before that, young Robinson made a name for himself in the Negro Leagues. In 1945, he batted .387 with five home runs and 13 stolen bases in 47 games as a shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs. For that, the infielder was named to the 1945 Negro League All-Star team.
Of course, listeners on the west coast know all about Jack Roosevelt Robinson, who hails from Pasadena, Calif., outside Los Angeles. Robinson tore up the gridiron as a backfield star at UCLA. He also made a name for himself as a collegiate track star and basketball player. Robinson played baseball, too, at UCLA, but some people say it was his worst sport. Amazing. I also should add that Robinson teaches Sunday school at a Methodist church in Pasadena.
Robinson’s Dodger debut today does not come without controversy. Some Brooklyn players reportedly sent around a petition, saying they did not want to play on the same team with a black man. Mr. Rickey, the president of the Dodgers, and Manager Leo Durocher quickly put an end to that talk and told the team to play ball.
The debut of Robinson is not the only Dodger news that we can report on. As I’ve mentioned previously on the American Radio Sports Network, the Dodgers were given some surprising news last week. Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler has suspended Durocher for the entire 1947 season for “conduct detrimental to baseball.” Clyde Sukeworth will be managing the team today.
We don’t know as much as we’d like about this Brooklyn club. The team did most of its spring training away from the South this year. Instead, the players went to Cuba to get in their annual spring work and to prepare for the season. Some local reporters might be surprised that Robinson, a 28-year-old Army veteran, is even here in Brooklyn today. Let me quote a March 5 article from the Associated Press. “For what it’s worth,” this reporter wrote, “no one of the numerous sports writers covering the Brooklyn camp thinks Jackie will be in the Dodgers line-up.”
Robinson, though, has proved his doubters wrong. The ballplayers looks a bit nervous, but, confident, as he gets ready for today’s action. It is a cool, breezy day here in Brooklyn. Summer is still a bit away. The sun is shining, though, and we look forward to another season of following our national pastime.
We can see Robinson out by the Brooklyn dugout, near some of his teammates. “Pee Wee” Reese, Eddie Stanky, Spider Jorgenson. The three and Jackie are posing for some pictures before the start of today’s game. I can hear the famous Dodger Sym-phony, that fun-filled group of musicians and Dodger fans, banging on their drums and tooting their horns. And, Hilda Chester, the Dodgers’ unofficial mascot, is wearing her usual flowery dress and clanging her cowbell. Fans, both black and white, continue to file into the ballpark. It’s a great day here in Brooklyn.”
(Robinson went hitless in his major league debut. He ended up batting .297 in 1947 with a .383 on-base percentage. He led the National League with 29 stolen bases and was named Rookie of the Year. Robinson played 10 seasons with the Dodgers. He batted .311 with a career on-base percentage of .409. Named the N.L. MVP in 1949, he played on six All-Star teams and six pennant-winning teams, including the 1955 World Series winner. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962, he died Oct. 24, 1972. He was just 53 years old. His No. 42 is retired throughout baseball.)
By Glen Sparks
(This is another short post. I’m linking to some interesting articles I’ve read over the last few days.)
First off, MLB.com columnist Richard Justice offers his thoughts about the Hall of Fame. He points out that 211 former players have been enshrined at Cooperstown. (Umpires, executives, etc., also have been honored.) Of the 211, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America has voted in just 115. The Veterans Committee and other committees have voted in the other 96.
Am I the only one who thinks that the number for the Writers’ Association seems low, and the number for the Veterans Committee seems high? Yes, I agree it should be hard to get into the Hall of Fame. But, as I mentioned yesterday, we’re getting quite a backlog of players who seem like worthy candidates. I’d encourage the Writers’ Association to begin electing some big classes.
Should Nomar Garciaparra get the call to the Hall? This seems like a stretch, but I always liked the athletic, energetic way that he played shortstop. He also put up some big years at the plate. Ben Cosman makes a slightly tongue-in-cheek case for the man called “No-mah.”
Finally, baseball retired Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 several years ago. Now, UCLA has retired the number for all sports. No one playing sports at the school will wear No. 42 again. (Three players currently wearing the numbers will be grandfathered in.)
UCLA also has renamed its athletic facilities “the Jackie Robinson Athletics and Recreation Complex.”
Robinson, who was born in Cairo, Ga., but who grew up in Pasadena, Calif., ran track and played baseball, basketball and football at UCLA before going on to break baseball’s color barrier as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.