Brooklyn and Jackie Robinson III

For years, the mantra of Brooklyn Dodger fans was “Wait till next year” as season after season went by without a World Series championship. And 1952 was not to be that “next year,” alas; worse, it was made all the harder to bear as “dem Bums” reached the seventh game of a hard-fought World Series against cross-town rivals the New York Yankees. Things started well. Jackie Robinson and the Boys of Summer had won the National League pennant going away; the first game of this World Series was at Ebbets Field and twenty-eight year old Negro League veteran Joe Black was on the mound for Brooklyn; in defeating star Yankee pitcher Native American Allie Reynolds (the “Superchief”), he became the first Black pitcher to record a World Series win. In the 7th and final game, Black was called upon to start for the third time in the Series and with only 2 days rest – a strange call in that during the season Black was a brilliant relief pitcher which earned him Rookie of the Year honors! Things were not going well for the Dodgers in that seventh game but in the bottom of the 7th inning with the Yankees ahead 4-2 with one out, they loaded the bases with Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson to bat next. Meanwhile in Sister Dunstan’s 6th grade class over fifty boys and girls abandoned computing the net price of an item after successive discounts and listened intently to the broadcast of the game on classmate Jimmy Williams’ portable radio, our hopes surging. Yankee manager Casey Stengel yanked starting pitcher Vic Rashi and brought in Bob Kuzava who had come to the Yankees from the Washington Senators that year and so was new to the Dodger hitters. Snider proved to be an easy victim of the left-hander’s curve balls; Robinson in turn hit a high popup over the pitcher’s mound – Kuzava got out of the way to let an infielder handle it as it danced in the wind but no one did until second baseman Billy Martin came charging in to make a dramatic shoe-string catch as the ball was about to hit the grass – much like in Mudville, there was no joy in Brooklyn that day. For a video of Martin’s catch, click HERE . For the text of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s immortal poem Casey at the Bat, click HERE .
BTW It is worth noting that the only two “college men” on that Dodger team were Jackie Robinson (UCLA) and Joe Black (Morgan State) – that friend down the block was right, a black athlete had to be exceptional to get to “play in the bigs.”
BTW It is also worth noting that Sister Dunstan was a terror from Ireland who could scream like a banshee when provoked by our bad behavior. She was also something of an Irish patriot – stirring Irish songs were part of the curriculum and St Patrick’s Day was a party day every year. Surprisingly, then, her religious name was that of an Anglo-Saxon saint, an Archbishop of Canterbury. The only other time this writer has come across this saint’s name was in the Robin Hood tales where Little John swears “by St Dunstan” – only a tad earthier than the “by St Loy” of Chaucer’s nun.
BTW One other thing of historical moment happened during the course of that 1952 season at Ebbets Field. While those free “knothole” tickets from the Police Station would place us in the left field bleachers, we would get to the park early and mill around in the area behind home plate to enjoy the balletic infield drills close up and to watch the coaches effortlessly hit towering fly balls to the outfielders using that magic thin fungo bat of theirs. On one of those occasions, this writer ran into new Dodger TV and radio announcer, recent Fordham University grad Vin Scully and boldly asked “Fordham a good school, Vin?” Scully answered “The best”! As fate would have it, this writer followed Vin’s lead and did indeed attend Fordham’s liberal arts college on the bucolic Rose Hill campus in the Bronx (right next to the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens) – he didn’t major in the new field of Communications as Scully had done but rather in Math with a minor in Latin, the minor in Latin being a requirement back then to get a Bachelor of Arts degree. One might argue that reading Latin authors like Horace and Tacitus would not exactly get one ready for the world of the 1960s but, flashing forward to 2023, it does provide a firm foundation for Wordle in Latin; seriously, click HERE .
History repeated itself in 1953 in that the Dodgers had a fine year, won the pennant and went on to lose to the hated Yankees in the October Classic. In Game 3, Dodger pitcher Carl Erskine (aka “Oisk” in Brooklynese) made history by setting a new Series record striking out 14 Yankees to win the game. This was a six game Series; in the top of the 9th of that 6th game Carl Furillo drove a game-tying two run homer into the short right field porch that the Yankees had built for Babe Ruth; alas the Yankees themselves then quickly put a run together to end it. To rub it in, it was that same feisty Billy Martin who drove in that run in that 9th inning for the Yankees and who was named Series MVP.
Let us not talk about 1954 which propelled Leo Durocher to his only Series win as a manager – but on a positive note, there was Willy Mays and there was “The Catch” – click HERE . On the other hand, the 1954 season was a restart for the Dodgers as new manager Walter Alston came on board after an impressive stint with the Montreal Royals; Alston was radically different from “Leo the Lip” Durocher and was known as “The Quiet Man.”
BTW Pete Hamill wrote how he and his friends in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn would argue endlessly who of the great New York City center-fielders was the best – Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays? Hamill, a fierce Dodger fan and Snider defender, conceded that in their hearts they all knew it was Mays.
The 1955 season would make “next year” a reality. Robinson would stay a key part of the team as they finally beat the Yankees in the World Series becoming the first team ever to win the Series after losing the first two games, again making history! The series had its heroes – Johnny Podres the young pitcher who won two games, throwing a shutout in the 7th game, outfielder Sandy Amoros who made that extraordinary catch on Yogi Berra’s fly ball in Game 7 to save that shutout (click HERE). The victory so uplifted Brooklyn spirits that local poetess and loyal fan Marianne Moore penned arguably the greatest English language poem of the year: Hometown Piece for Messers Alston and Reese (click HERE ). And cartoonist Willard Mullin finally could let his iconic Brooklyn Bum look spiffy – on the front page of the New York Daily News no less (click HERE ).
But then Robinson had the dubious honor of making the last out in the seventh game of the 1956 Series, which ironically made the Yankees the second team in history to win the Series after losing the first two games. To make things worse, though they had dodged that no-hitter in 1947, the Dodgers were on the wrong side of history once again by being the first team to be on the losing end of a “perfect game” (no hits and no one to reach base) in a World Series – in Game 5 at the hands of Yankee pitcher Don Larsen. Indeed fate can be cruel and even sadistic as Robinson struck out to end Game 7 of what would be the last Series game to be played in Brooklyn – and the last game played by Robinson himself. Indeed, unbelievably, the clueless Dodger front office actually tried to trade Robinson to the unspeakable Giants for the 1957 season but Robinson refused and retired from baseball.
In retrospect, the Dodgers were amazing throughout the Jackie Robinson era – to quantify how good they were, in 8 of the 10 years from 1947 through 1956, they either won the pennant (6) or lost on the last day of the season (2). For the record, the Yankees had an even better skein, winning the pennant 8 of those 10 years; the Giants for their part won the pennant twice in that era; there were in all 7 Subway Series and only once was the Series won by a team not from New York – that was in 1948 when there was no New York team in the Series as the Boston Braves lost to the Cleveland Indians.
The 1957 season was largely irrelevant as the Dodgers and the Giants were packing their bags for the move to the West Coast. The story does not lack for villains – Walter O’Malley and his Giants’ counterpart Horace Stoneham for sure but even more opprobrium must be heaped on City Mayor Robert Wagner, the sorry scion of a prominent political family, and Commissioner Robert Moses, a self-anointed urban planning “visionary” who believed firmly in the Almighty Automobile; the Brooklyn Borough President, John Cashmore, had virtually no say in the matter as no one had paid close attention when the once proud, independent city of Brooklyn was seduced in 1898 into a merger with Manhattan becoming a lowly “outer borough” in the process. To add insult to injury, in the late 1950s, the mighty Brooklyn piers were being shut down and maritime traffic moved to Port Elizabeth, New Jersey – all in the name of “containerization”; and the flight to the suburbs only increased.
The last game at Ebbets Field was played on Sept. 24, 1957. For the last time that “e” lit up in the Schaefer Scoreboard for an error; for the last time the “h” lit up for a hit. For the last time, no one won a suit from haberdasher Abe Stark by hitting his “Hit Sign – Win Suit” ad at the bottom of the scoreboard with a line-drive. For the last time, Gladys Gooding, the longtime organist, entertained the crowd between innings, this time with tunes like “Am I Blue,” “After You’ve Gone,” “Don’t Ask Me Why I’m Leaving,” “Que, Sera, Sera,” and “Thanks for the Memories.” For a sample of Gladys’s keyboard wizardry, click HERE . And for the last time, the ragtag Brooklyn Dodger Sym-Phony tormented a victim from an opposing team as he tried to get back to his seat in the dugout after making an out – for pictures of them, click HERE .
But 1956 had been Robinson’s last season. He went on to become a Vice-President of the Chock Full O’Nuts Corporation, which made him the first Black American to be a vice-president of a major US corporation – amazing factoid when you think about it today. He was active in Republican Party politics: he supported Nelson Rockefeller at the 1964 Convention (for which he gets a shout-out in David Corn’s new book American Psychosis) but he continued to take strong stances on Civil Rights issues. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame upon his first year of eligibility in 1962. Sadly, he died in 1972 at age 53 from problems with diabetes.
His widow Rachel Robinson founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 1973, an organization that provides college and graduate school scholarships for minority youth. Popular culture has acknowledged Robinson’s contribution to American life with a Broadway Show The First and with the recent motion picture 42, named for the number Robinson wore, a number which has been retired in his honor by Major League Baseball – it has also been retired by his alma mater, the UCLA Bruins.
Today, the Ebbets Field Apartments occupy the site of the old ball park and P.S. 375, the elementary school across the street is now the Jackie Robinson School. The Interboro Parkway which harrowingly connects Brooklyn and Queens has been renamed the Jackie Robinson Parkway and there is the new Jackie Robinson Museum in Manhattan which honors his legacy in baseball and his impact on the Civil Rights movement (for the museum web site, click HERE ). For a picture of Robinson in his playing days, click HERE .

2 thoughts on “Brooklyn and Jackie Robinson III

  1. A great history of the mid century Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson’s accomplishment. I think all bases were touched. Which reminds me of Jackie Robinson watching Bobby Thomson to make sure he touched all bases when he hit the infamous home run in 1951.
    Ken us a brilliant historian on any number of subjects and a brilliant writer.

  2. I happened to hear on the radio the last game Robinson was playing for the minor league team he was on at the time that Branch Rickey gave him the chance to play for the Dodgers. I remember he got on first and then stole second AND third and everyone knew he would do it but could not be stopped. I don’t recall if he stole home too, or just got there on a hit, but his base running was something extraordinary even though I could only imagine it from the excited voice of the announcer.

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