The story has been told and re-told- that of Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch
Rickey sitting Robinson down in 1945 and challenging him with the racial situations,
beanballs and abuse he would face in the lilly white baseball world of the period. "Turn
the other cheek," Rickey advised. "Let your baseball talents do the arguing. Have the
guts not to fight back. Red Barber was the radio announcer for all of the ten seasons
Robinson spent with the Dodgers.
BARBER: The greatest thing he did was Mr. Rickey told him that he couldn't answer back
for three years. Greater than his physical attributes on the field was his spiritual
control of himself. There were a lot of people who felt he shouldn't be there. But he
began to play. They had to treat him fairly because he the greatest gate attraction since
Babe Ruth. He was tremendous.
FLYNN: Because he put money in everybody's pockets.
BARBER: That's right. Between Mr. Rickey and Robinson, they changed all sports.
The Dodgers farm team in Montreal was an ideal location to begin this so-called noble
experiment. The Canadiens did not carry many of the racial biases as some sections of the
United States exhibited. And the Royals drew nearly a million fans to set a new minor
league record. Of the eight International League teams, Rochester got a look at Robinson
last, in a Memorial Day doubleheader at Red Wings Stadium.Over 14 thousand fans jammed
into the ballpark- one of the biggest crowds in Wings history. Concessions sold out before
game two. From newspaper and eye-witness accounts, no racial outbursts occurred. Though
plain-clothed policemen speckled the stands just in case. Long-time fan and Knot Hole
Gang director Jay Stalker saw Robinson play on Norton Street.
STALKER: But I do know afterwards somebody said to one of the Rochester players "How was
he?" and he said "He can play ball." If I remember right, they were curious whether the
guy could play ball or not. But he could play ball. I think that people in Rochester- I
don't think they cared what color- they wanted to see a guy play ball to the best of his
abilities. And I think it was the same then as it is today.
Current Red Wings rooter and current Milkwaukee Braves scout Dorothy Fox also play
Robinson play here.
FOX: There was a feeling that people had to see him. There was something that had been a
viable situation. I wouldn't say it was like a sideshow but it was something that it was
hard for a lot of fans to accept that there were others than whites who could play this
game. He was very, very shy when it came to talking with people. He shied away from that
because people did not treat him like an equal when he came in the league. They wanted
him for what they could get out of him. That bothers me a great deal.
"Jack Rabbit" Rooselvelt Robinson and the "Colored Comet" as the mroning paper
referred to him then as, was known for his daring baserunning, rattling the pitchers into
balks or poor throws to the plate. In college, he was UCLA's first four-letter man and
incorporated aspects of football, track and basketball into his baseball play. That year
in Montral, Robinson took the batting crown with a .349 average, swiped 40 bases and was
the no. 2 fielding second baseman in the league, helping the Royals to a runaway flag.
Columinst George Beahon wrote for the Democrat and Chronicle in 1946. He says by then
there weren't many writers voting against Robinson playing in the big leagues.
BEAHON: No, I think most of them agreed because ethe scouts were so high on him, that
this guy was one of those "can't miss" talents, that he was gonna play in the big leagues,
and I would have been very surprised if he had not made it. If he had been playing his
first game here in triple A for opening day, I think you would have seen a couple of pages
devoted to it in the morning and afternoon papers. But he really wasn't beseiged for
interviews. He was just a good ballplayer, a rookie with great talent. If the guy had gone
into football today, he'd be a first round draft pick. He was a great football player- an
All-American and a track star.
Once again, Dorothy Fox.
FOX: He knew where he was headed and he was gonna make it and wasn't going to let anybody
stand in his way. He was very aggressive at the plate, in the field and he would give
absolutely no account to anyone when he was on base. When he wanted to steal, that base
was his whether he made it or not.
Managing Montreal, was Mississippi-born-and-bred Clay Hopper, who in spring training
actually questioned whether Jackie was a human being. He begged Rickey not to send
Robinson to the Royals. But before long, Hopper was a big supporter. The Royals third
baseman was John "Spider" Jorgensen.
JORGENSEN: Well, Clay was pretty good about it. As a matter of fact, he was okay with it
when he found out he could do a few things like bunt and run and steal home. Clay liked
that you know, anything we could do to beat the opposition or show up the opposition. It
worked out. It didn't take long for that to happen. Jackie could make things happen, I'll
Spider says the Royals weren't overly friendly to Robinson but didn't avoid him
either. Trips to Baltimore were rough. Fans once waited outside calling for "the black
bastard" to come out. In Syracuse, a home town player tossed a black cat from the dugout
yelling "Hey Jackie, here's your cousin!" In Louisville, players staged a brief walkout.
But overall, incidents were few. Jorgensen says he and other players didn't see it as
history in the making. They were more concerned with keeping their own careers going.
JORGENSEN: I roomed with Marv Rackley who was from the South. And he mentioned it one
time. He said "You know, Spider this is quite an event. I don't think most of us realize
it. We got a black ball player- the first in professional baseball. This is gonna be quite
a thing." As it turned out, he was right. And more so now. It seems like people now look
back and they can't believe a lot of that happened. But it did happen.
The rest, as they say, is history. Robinson went up to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947,
won Rookie of the Year honors and helped the bums to six pennants and a World Series,
hitting .311 through a decade of service. He was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in
ROBINSON: My main ambition was to get along well enough with whoever I was playing with
so that they would realize that- because I was colored and they were white- that we could
still play together. I think that was my main ambition was to break down that barrier..
not so much for me to go to the major leagues. I just wanted somebody to do it- I didn't
care who it was.
Bill Flynn, WXXI 1370.