Brooklyn and Jackie Robinson II

The Dodgers met the awesome New York Yankees in the 1947 World Series, the first fall classic ever with a Black ball player and the first to be televised – people didn’t have TVs at home yet and the bars of Brooklyn were packed as resourceful publicans showed the game on early Motorola and RCA TVs; announcer Bob Stanton did the TV play-by-play; broadcasting legends Mel Allen and Red Barber made their AM radio broadcasts on WINS and WMGM respectively.
This was a world series that went seven games and one that had moments that have become part of baseball lore and legend (at least in Brooklyn ). There was Cookie Lavagetto’s breaking up Claude Bevens’ no-hitter attempt with a double off the Ebbetts Field scoreboard with two outs in the 9th inning of game 4. In the bottom of the 9th, the score was Yankees 2, Dodgers 1 – the Dodger run being the result of two walks, a sacrifice bunt and a fielder’s choice in the 5th inning. In the Dodger 9th, the first two batters went down quietly. But then Carl Furillo walked and speedy Al Gionfriddo was sent in as a pinch-runner for Furillo; Pete Reiser pinch–hit for pitcher Hugh Casey; Gionfriddo then stole second and the Yankees deliberately walked Reiser putting runners on first and second – ominously the potential winning run was now on base; Eddie Miskis ran for Reiser. Eddie Stanky was due up next; Red Barber, known for his Southern charm and country vocabulary, announced things this way:
    Wait a minute … Stanky is being called back from the plate and Lavagetto goes up to hit … Gionfriddo walks off second … Miksis off first … They’re both ready to go on anything … Two men out, last of the ninth … the pitch … swung on, there’s a drive hit out toward the right field corner. Henrich is going back. He can’t get it! It’s off the wall for a base hit! Here comes the tying run, and here comes the winning run! … Friends, they’re killin’ Lavagetto… his own teammates… they’re beatin’ him to pieces and it’s taking a police escort to get Lavagetto away from the Dodgers! … Well, I’ll be a suck-egg mule!
Lavagetto’s game-winning hit kept the Dodgers from making baseball history as the first team to be on the wrong end of a no-hitter in a World Series game – a point we will sadly return to.
For a video of Red Barber and Mel Allen’s reminiscences about Lavagetto’s hit, click HERE .
And there was Al Gionfriddo’s incredible catch, snaring a Joe Dimaggio blast, racing with his arm stretched out over the low fence in left-center field in Yankee Stadium, 406 feet from home plate, to save game 6.
Here’s how Red Barber reported Gionfriddo’s catch:
    Here’s the pitch, swung on, belted … it’s a long one … back goes Gionfriddo, back, back, back, back, back, back … heeee makes a one-handed catch against the bullpen! Oh, Doctor!
For a video of that catch, click HERE .
So the Dodgers won game 6 setting up the 7th game in Yankee Stadium. But the Yankees won that final game and all Brooklyn fans could do was to find comfort in the cry “Wait till next year,” yet once again.
Full Disclosure: This writer was seven years old in 1947 and did not really follow the Dodgers yet – that would happen big time in 1949; but, in 1950 he had a sports bio-comic entitled Jackie Robinson which covered Robinson’s life and Dodger highlights such as the 1947 World Series in detail; this writer read it so often that it was pretty much committed to photographic memory – emotionally speaking it has been a much more important source even than the invaluable internet.
Alas 1948 was not to be that “next year”: although Leo Durocher was back at the helm after his one year suspension, this was to be a trading and rebuilding season as the Dodgers would finish in 3rd place. To start the season, star right-fielder Dixie Walker was traded to Pittsburgh. But the core group of Roger Kahn’s hagiography The Boys of Summer was being put in place. Brooklyn had Carl Furillo ready to take over in right-field and the Walker trade brought sly spit-ball pitcher Preacher Roe and sure-handed 3rd baseman Billy Cox to the Dodgers as well. Duke Snider soon took over for the oft injured Pete Reiser in center field; Roy Campanella joined the team as the new first-string catcher; the trade of Eddie Stanky to the Boston Braves opened the 2nd Base position for Robinson; Gil Hodges came up from the minors as a catcher but was soon on 1st Base. Burt Shotton came back as Durocher himself left the team in midseason and, shamelessly, took over as manager of the Dodgers’ Manhattan based rivals, the unspeakable Giants.
BTW It is said that Stanky demanded to be traded because of a salary dispute with Branch Rickey and Durocher; in any case, he went to the Boston Braves where he paired up with hard-hitting shortstop Alvin Dark to form a powerful keystone combination. The Braves also had 1947 National League MVP Bob Eliot playing 3rd and the legendary pitching pair Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain on the mound: the Braves’ pitching strategy was famously summarized by “Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain.” And the Braves did win the National League Pennant that year. Then in the American League race, the Boston Red Sox heroically caught the Cleveland Indians on the last day of the regular season to force a one game playoff with the chance to make history by having the first ever BeanTown Series: as was their wont, the Red Sox let Boston and Baseball History down by losing woefully 8-3, the Curse of the Bambino at work yet again. One more thing, the one pitcher who could pick the daring Jackie Robinson off 1st Base with alarming regularity was that same Warren Spahn, a left-hander with a high kick who brilliantly disguised whether he was going to pitch to the plate or throw over to first – in Brooklyn we dreaded the games Spahn was scheduled to pitch against the beloved “Bums.”
BTW Show-biz savvy, Durocher would later host the Colgate Comedy Hour on national TV (he was terrible IMHO). And his glamorous wife Laraine Day hosted a TV show which was a lead up to Giants home games, Day With the Giants ! She also wrote a book in 1952 with that same title that is available even now on Amazon ! And she is a favorite of film noir fans for such movies as The Locket (1946) where she plays an especially dangerous femme fatale.
Major League baseball was not the only area where there was progress for Black Americans. Likely emboldened by baseball’s success, President Harry Truman decreed the integration of the US Armed Forces by Executive Order on July 26, 1948 – another big step forward for Civil Rights in the country. However, things were not so simple; in this period, returning Black GIs were routinely denied the benefits of the GI Bill such as access to higher education, advanced job training and government backed mortgages – benefits which contributed mightily to the growth of the White Middle Class in prosperous post-War America. Sadly and infuriatingly today all this is reflected in the gap in family wealth between Whites and Blacks.
Burt Shotton was still at the helm for the 1949 season as another key player joined the team: pitcher Don Newcombe, who had also played, albeit briefly, in the Negro Leagues. This proved to be Robinson’s most stellar year: he was elected by the fans to the National League All-Star team, batted .342, drove in 124 runs, stole 37 bases, scored 122 runs and was named National League MVP, leading the Dodgers to the Pennant. Alas, again the Dodgers lost to the hated Yankees in the World Series and in only five games this time. Don Newcombe lost the first game 1-0 to Tommy Henrich’s 9th inning home-run; Preacher Roe pitched a come-back shut-out (1-0) in the second game with Robinson scoring that single run. But then the Yankees swept the final three games.
In 1950, Robinson had another outstanding season but the Dodgers lost the pennant to the Philadelphia Phillies’ “whiz kids” on Dick Sisler’s opposite field home run in the 10th inning of the last game of the season, at Ebbets Field no less – had they won they would have forced another three game playoff.
In that 1950 season, Robinson’s salary that year was the highest any Brooklyn Dodger in history had been paid to that point: $35,000. In today’s terms, that would be $435,000 – which is far less than the median big league salary of $1.5M. (Today’s players have the courageous Curt Flood to thank for that; for more on Curt Flood and also Carl Furillo and the vindictive Walter O’Malley, click HERE .)
Robinson was indeed a man of parts and that year 1950 also saw the release of The Jackie Robinson Story, a Hollywood bio-pic in which he played himself (Ruby Dee played his wife Rachel)! The movie was well received and Bosley Crowther, the demanding film critic for the New York Times, wrote
     “And Mr. Robinson, doing that rare thing of playing himself in the picture’s leading role, displays a calm assurance and composure that might be envied by many a Hollywood star.”
Robinson had another good year in 1951 a year when, once again as in 1946 and 1950, Brooklyn lost the Pennant on the last day of the season, this time in the third game of a three game playoff against Leo Durocher’s New York Giants – Bobby Thomson’s 9th inning home run off pitcher Ralph Branca, “the shot heard ’round the world” and all that. Baseball aficionados continue to comment on the way Jackie Robinson, a competitor and professional to the core, was checking that Thompson touched every base as he ran triumphantly around them. (This part of the post is just hard to type for this writer who was watching that game on TV with grammar school classmate Bernie Farrell as we expected to be the ones to bring the good news to our friends playing touch football down at the park.) Some years later it was revealed that the Giants were stealing the opposing catcher’s signs with a telescope installed in the score board out in center field at the Polo Grounds whence they relayed the signs by phone to the dugout. Thomson later admitted to all this but claimed he didn’t get the sign on that infamous pitch – if you believe this last bit, let me sell you some shares in the Brooklyn Bridge! This sign-stealing helps to explain what happened that season: the Dodgers were 13 games ahead of the 2nd place Giants in mid-August before their “September collapse”; but the Dodgers didn’t “collapse” (far from it, they played okay); but by stealing signs, Durocher’s Giants went on a madcap victory streak 50-12 over the last 62 games that forced that playoff. For the nitty-gritty on all this, there are entire books on the subject such as The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World (2006) by Joshua Prager.
BTW The Giants lost the World Series that year to the Yankees, who were at the midpoint of a 5-year Series winning streak, a record likely never to be broken.
More to come. Affaire à suivre.

3 thoughts on “Brooklyn and Jackie Robinson II

  1. You were correct.You did cover the excitement in watching Jackie Robinson play in the first piece. And you did cover his political activity.

    I was thinking more of how Jackie affected his young white fans. Many of them were not as prejudiced as their parents because it’s hard to hate someone you root for on the ballfield.

  2. It is a great history of the late 40s and 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers, and of course, the great Jackie Robinson.
    There are two things missing for me:
    1. How exciting a player Jackie was . You could not take your eyes off of him.
    2. The effect Jackie had on race relations
    I love reading your stuff because you are a wonderful writer with an abundance of intelligence. That you are a Brooklyn boy doesn’t exactly hurt

    1. Most important issues. In my defense, so to speak, in the first “chapter” there is a whole bit
      on how exciting a player Robinson was: “Robinson brought an especial excitement to the stodgy game of baseball.” And there is the citation of MLK that Robinson started the Civil Rights movement and credit is
      given to Robinson and MLB for pushing Truman to integrate the Armed Forces.

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