Jack Robinson

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

His name was John Edward Robinson, and his nickname was Jack.

Jack E. Robinson?

A Red Sox player?

Jack Robinson was a right-handed pitcher from New Jersey, not the Jackie Robinson rejected by the Red Sox at an April 1945 Fenway Park tryout. He appeared in three games in eight days for the Red Sox in 1949, the beginning and end of his major-league career.

He was born John Edward Robinson in Orange, Essex County, on February 20, 1921. His father, Harry, was a letter carrier. Harry and his wife, Helen (Jacobus), had three children. John was followed a couple of years later by Elizabeth, and four years after that, by Harry Jr.

Jack, the nickname he reported on his player questionnaire for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, attended the Demarest and Park Grammar Schools, then Bloomfield High School (graduating in 1939), and then spent a year at the Bordentown Military Institute.

Robinson was a right-hander, an even six feet tall, listed with a playing weight of 175-185 pounds.

His professional career had begun at age 20 in 1941. SABR's Scouts Committee shows Robinson as signed by Ray Kennedy for the Amsterdam (New York) Rugmakers of the Class-C Canadian-American League, a New York Yankees affiliate. He did exceptionally well for the Rugmakers, appearing in 28 games with a 22-5 record and a league-leading 2.81 earned run average.1 Robinson also led the league in the number of hits allowed. Promoted in 1942 to the Binghamton Triplets in the Class-A Eastern League, Robinson was 15-9, with an ERA of exactly 2.00 before enlisting in the navy. He spent the next three seasons in the service.

On September 8, 1945, just six days after the final signing of the surrender documents formally ended the war, he married Gloria M. Price. Jack and Gloria had a son, James, who was 2½ years old at the time of his May 1949 Red Sox debut.

He'd played some baseball in the Navy, pitching and playing first base for the Norfolk (Virginia) Naval Training Station team.2 Mustered out early in 1946, Robinson got in a full season of work in the minors, mostly with the Beaumont Exporters in the AA Texas League., He was 14-9 with a 2.97 ERA in 27 games.

Jack worked as a salesman in the offseasons.

In 1947, he split the season between Portland, Oregon, and Newark, New Jersey, both of them Triple-A ball clubs, with a combined 5-9 (5.52 ERA).

Robinson pitched Opening Day for the Kansas City Blues in 1948, but was traded to Louisville in the Boston Red Sox system on June 7, Blues president Lee MacPhail trading Robinson and outfielder Milt Byrnes to the Colonels for second baseman Mickey Witek and outfielder Bill Sinton.3 His combined stats for the two teams were 7-14, 4.36.

Robinson trained with the Red Sox in the spring of 1949, taken to camp as a batting practice pitcher "on loan from the Louisville farm team."4 The plan from the start was to have him and Gordie Mueller work out with the earlier-reporting Boston team at Sarasota before joining the Colonels as their spring training began in Bradenton.5 He stuck around a little longer than originally envisioned and got into his first big-league exhibition game at Tampa against the Cincinnati Reds on March 26. He retired the last two batters in the 10-7 win. A few days later, Hy Hurwitz of the Boston Globe wrote, "Robinson is a pitcher on the Boston pitching staff and he may miss the Kentucky Derby if he does well against the Tigers."6 Actually, he got clobbered in a start against Detroit on March 31, banged around for six runs in the third inning and one in the fourth before being replaced by Mickey McDermott.

On April 17 it was announced that he had made the team. It took a while to get into his first game, but he was given three opportunities, in three different cities.

At Briggs Stadium in Detroit on May 4, manager Joe McCarthy gave Robinson his big-league debut. Red Sox starter Mickey Harris had been pounded for 14 hits and five runs in 5 2/3 innings. With two on and two outs, Robinson took over and got Hoot Evers to ground into a force play at second base. He pitched the seventh inning as well. After getting the first out, Bob Swift singled, but Robinson picked him off – except that his throw went astray and he was assessed an error as Swift took second base.7 He then induced two infield grounders, 3-1 and 1-3. Merrill Combs pinch-hit for him in the eighth. Combs flied out. As it happens, Robinson never did get a chance to bat in major-league ball. Virgil Trucks beat Boston, 5-1, the one Red Sox run coming on a Ted Williams home run, one of only three hits Trucks allowed Boston.

The very next day, May 5, the Sox faced Bob Feller in Cleveland. Jack Kramer started for Boston, but gave up a second-inning three-run homer to Ken Keltner (in the first game the two teams had played since Keltner did the Red Sox in with a three-run homer in the October 4, 1948, single-game playoff that gave the Indians the pennant) and another to Minnie Minoso. After two singles, Robinson came on in relief, again inheriting two runners. He threw a wild pitch, then walked Larry Doby. Lou Boudreau knocked in two more runs with a bases-loaded double, Doby being cut down at the plate. Robinson got out of the inning, retiring Joe Gordon, then pitched the third before giving way to Dorish to start the fourth. In the third, he gave up a double to Keltner and hit Minoso with a pitch, but was not scored on. The final score was 7-3, Indians. The Red Sox had only mustered six hits.

Jack Robinson’s final game was in Chicago on May 11. That morning, the Sox released pitcher Denny Galehouse, triggering concern among the rest of the staff since the team was still carrying 28 men and three more would have to be cut within the week. The Red Sox lost, but it wasn’t Robinson's fault, though he did add a balk to his record. Tex Hughson started, pitched five innings, and left with the game 7-5 in favor of the White Sox. Robinson pitched one inning – the sixth -- and gave up one hit, a one-out triple by Gus Zernial. It was then that he balked, facing batter Dave Philley, and Zernial scored. He got Philley to ground out to the first baseman and then struck out Cass Michaels. He was charged with the only earned run of his brief stay in the majors, and it wasn't entirely his fault. Jack Barry of the Globe wrote, "Robinson relieved Hughson in the sixth and was the victim of poor support. After Appling had been disposed of, Zernial hit a fly ball to right center. O'Brien ran around in circles and Zernial got a triple. Pesky tried to pull the hidden ball trick and the Boston pitcher made the mistake of touching the pitching rubber without the ball in his possession. Plate umpire Bill McGowan ruled a balk and Zernial scored."8 It was a game in which the White Sox scored in every inning, fortunately a home game for them or the tally might have been worse than the 12-8 final.

When it came time to pare the rosters to 25 players, the Red Sox sent both Harry Dorish and Robinson to Louisville on 24-hour recall option on May 18.

Robinson returned to minor-league ball, without a decision and with a career 2.25 ERA in the majors. But it may have been a deceptive stat, in that Robinson had worked four innings but managed to walk a batter, balk, hit a batter, and throw a wild pitch. He did have the one strikeout.

With the Colonels once more, he had a subpar season, 6-13 with a 5.03 ERA. In 1950 he was 8-8 with Louisville, with a 4.93 ERA. On December 9, his contract was purchased by the Syracuse Chiefs (International League) along with that of fellow right-handed pitcher John Griffore.

He pitched the next three seasons for Syracuse, starting 23 of his 38 games in 1952 but then primarily relieving in 30 games (1953) and 26 games (1954). His ERA progressively worsened, from 3.73 to 4.34 to 5.29.

His last year in professional baseball (1954) was with the Ottawa A's, a Kansas City A's affiliate. He was 4-3 (4.50) in 25 games (four starts).

After his baseball career was over, Robinson became a claims adjuster, auditing insurance claims for the United States Fidelity and Guaranty Insurance Company.

He died at Memorial Hospital in Ormond Beach, Florida, on March 2, 2000. He was widowed at the time of his death. His “usual occupation” as provided on his State of Florida Certificate of Death was “Baseball Player,” somewhat rare for a person 79 years of age.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Robinson's player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, Rod Nelson of SABR's Scouts Committee, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 Robinson's ERA is as reported in Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Third Edition (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, 2007), 380. The figure on Baseball-Reference.com is 3.81.

2 See, for instance, "Title of Wartime Sports Capital of South Bestowed Upon Norfolk By Celebrities," Richmond Times Dispatch, July 9, 1944: 42.

3 Associated Press, "Blues and Colonels Swap Four Players," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, June 8, 1948: 26.

4 Burt Whitman, "Yankees Felled in 7th, 5-3; Homers Defeat Reds, 10-7," Boston Herald, March 27, 1949: 90.

5 Melville Webb, "So To Take Two Minor Loop Hurlers To Camp," Boston Globe, February 15, 1949: 9.

6 Hy Hurwitz, "Sox Win Duel, 1-0; Braves Take Slugfest, 12-11," Boston Globe, March 31, 1949: 23.

7 Actually, it's Retrosheet which assessed the error to Robinson. The official statistics charge it to Chuck Stobbs – even though he didn't enter the game until the next inning. E-mail to author from Tom Ruane of Retrosheet, May 7, 2016.

8 Jack Barry, "Chisox Top Red Sox, 12-8; Score Run In Every Inning," Boston Globe, May 12, 1949: 13.