“The Brooklyn Dodgers today purchased the contract of Jackie Roosevelt Robinson from the Montréal Royals.”1 Arthur Mann, an assistant to Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey, handed out the announcement in the press box at Ebbets Field during the fifth inning of the Royals’ 4-3 exhibition game victory against the Dodgers.2 Coincidentally, Jackie Robinson, playing first base, had just popped into a double play attempting to bunt.
The words of the announcement were few and the true meaning was yet to unfold. The largest crowd (14,282) to watch the Dodgers play this spring understood the meaning of the moment and warmly greeted the appearance of Robinson for batting practice. The sentiment of Dodgers fans was clear. They remembered Dixie Walker being quoted as opposed to playing with Robinson and booed his first turn at bat.3 Uncertainty loomed. Rumors had it that other Dodgers expressed similar sentiments. Later, during the first week of the season, Robinson expressed his own sentiments about his teammates. “I’ve found out that there are fellows on the club willing to help me. Eddie Stanky, a great ball player, helped me the very first day. Others have advised me and coached me since. I know by that experience that I’m not alone.”4
Robinson actually learned of his promotion to the Dodgers that very morning when Branch Rickey called him into his office to tell him the news. Despite flawless defense at first base, it wasn’t very surprising that he went hitless as well in his other at-bats against the Dodgers – a walk, a groundout to the pitcher, and a pop fly to the shortstop.5
He left Rickey’s office in a trance, modestly admitting later that he didn’t think he was too impressive in that last game with the Royals. “But that was because, I guess, I couldn’t keep my mind on the game all the time. Just think, tomorrow I’ll be with them. I’ll be wearing a Brooklyn uniform.”6 The very next day, Robinson wore that home white Dodgers uniform for the first time after a well-orchestrated spring training.
All aspects of spring training in 1947 in Havana for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Montréal Royals, and Jackie Robinson were under the watchful eye and control of Branch Rickey.7 Games were played at Havana’s Gran Stadium with jaunts to play in Caracas, Venezuela, the Canal Zone, and Panama. Although the Dodgers played the Yankees, Boston Braves, and a team of Cuban all-stars, most games were against Montréal with Robinson playing first base for the Royals. With the Dodgers’ Eddie Stanky at second base, it was clear that first base represented the best opportunity for Robinson to play with the Dodgers in 1947. A front-page blare in The Sporting News suggested otherwise: “Likely to See Service Mostly as Pinch Runner.”8 Robinson was determined to succeed even if he was never really comfortable at first base.9
But there were things that Rickey could not control and they hit the headlines like a bombshell. On the very day that Robinson and his Royals were scheduled to play the Dodgers at Ebbets Field, Commissioner Happy Chandler took an unprecedented action against Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. Chandler construed a series of incidents involving Durocher to be “detrimental to baseball” and suspended him for the 1947 season.10 The story became front page immediately and drew attention away from what was about to happen on the field.11
Clyde Sukeforth was the Dodgers’ acting manager as they began a three-game exhibition series against the New York Yankees at Ebbets Field. Sukeforth selected Joe Hatten to start the first game. Hatten, a 14-game winner in 1946, would be the Opening Day starter for Dodgers in four days’ time. Bill Bevens, a 16-game winner in 1946, had the starting assignment from Yankees manager Bucky Harris. Each starter pitched three innings.
As Bevens left the mound after three innings, having given up six hits, his Yankees trailed 3-1. The Dodgers scored their first two runs in the first inning on Gene Hermanski’s double. For the Yankees, Johnny Lindell tripled to deep center in the second and subsequently scored their first run. The Dodgers added a run in the third inning on Robinson’s first run batted in. With one out and runners on first and third, his fly to left easily scored Pete Reiser.
Left-hander Marius Russo, hoping to return to the Yankees roster from the Newark Bears, took over for Bevens in the fourth inning and safely retired the Dodgers, allowing the Yankees to tie the score in the fifth at 3-3. Then came the Dodgers fifth. Russo walked the first three batters – Stan Rojek, Carl Furillo, and Tommy Tatum. The Yankees fielding soon turned ugly when shortstop Phil Rizzuto made throwing errors on consecutive plays. Butch Woyt hit a likely double-play ball to Rizzuto, whose errant toss to Snuffy Stirnweiss at second allowed one run to score. When Robinson followed with another grounder to short, Rizzuto’s wild throw into right field allowed two more runs to score. Now the Dodgers were leading 6-3 without the benefit of any hits in the inning, but they were just getting started.
After Eddie Miksis’s back-to-the-pitcher force out, which would have normally ended the inning, Russo yielded consecutive run-scoring singles to Bruce Edwards and Ed Head and was done for the night. His replacement, Johnny Murphy, added to the Yankees’ defensive miseries with an errant throw home on Stanky’s squeeze bunt. A wave of Dodgers hits followed – Rojek’s double, singles by Furillo and Tatum, and another double by Woyt. Robinson delivered his second run batted in and the 11th run of the inning by lining out to center field. The inning was mercifully over when Miksis, the 15th batter for the Dodgers, popped out to Rizzuto – 11 runs, six hits, three walks and three errors, and eventually a 14-6 win.
The remainder of the game was of little consequence offensively. The Yankees got a late-inning home run from Johnny Lindell and nine hits total for the game. Over the last three innings, the Dodgers faced Spud Chandler, and were held scoreless. Chandler, a 20-game winner in 1946, was the likely Yankees starter on Opening Day. Robinson didn’t get any of the Dodgers’ 16 hits, but he did lead them with three runs batted in.
Jackie Robinson’s First At-Bats at Ebbets Field as a Dodger12
- First inning: flied to CF (Bevens)
- Third inning: flied to LF, RBI (Bevens)
- Fifth inning: ground ball to SS, error, RBI (Russo)
- Fifth inning: lineout to CF, RBI (Murphy)
- Seventh inning: sacrifice bunt to P, error (S. Chandler)
How did Robinson do at first base? “On the field, he handled fifteen chances like a veteran. Two were difficult ones, but Robby did his part neatly.”13
The Yankees returned the favor the very next day by defeating the Dodgers, 8-1, on 11 hits and solid pitching from both Allie Reynolds and Frank “Spec” Shea, who each limited the Dodgers to two hits. Of course, all eyes were on Robinson who delivered his first hit as a Dodger in addition to fielding flawlessly at first base. In the fourth inning, Robinson singled against Reynolds, scoring Pete Reiser and temporarily cutting the Yankees lead to 2-1.14
The Yankees also won the final game of the series, scoring four runs in the ninth inning for the 10-9 victory. Robinson, who singled in the first inning, missed a chance to be the game’s hero for the Dodgers. His foul pop left the tying run stranded at second base in the ninth inning. The victory allowed the Yankees to win their spring-training series against the Dodgers five games to three. For the three games, it was clear the fans came to see Jackie Robinson. The total series attendance (79,441) set an all-time exhibition record.15
Spring training was now over. It was time for Opening Day at Ebbets Field. Jackie Robinson’s own words in the Pittsburgh Courier captured his sentiments about the moment. “I know now that dreams do come true. I know because I am playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the big leagues.”16 Perhaps you can still hear Ebbets Field public address announcer Tex Rickards intoning, “Number 42, Jackie Robinson,” for the very first time in that very first game and many games to come.
Louis Effrat, sportswriter for the New York Times, reminds us that the details of an exhibition game, particularly the play-by-play accounts, can often become less interesting or important than the stories surrounding the game itself. He pulled no punches when discussing his coverage of this game, particularly the bottom of the fifth inning. “Detailed description of Brooklyn’s attack and New York’s defense in this frame would be pointless. Anyway, Russo and Murphy would rather forget about everything that occurred.”17 Telling his readers of Russo’s walks and Rizzuto’s miscues sufficed for Effrat. Dick Young was a bit more forthcoming in the New York Daily News.18
1 Louis Effrat, “Royals’ Star Signs with Brooks Today,” New York Times, April 11, 1947: 20.
2 The 1947 Montreal Royals (International League), defending Junior World Series champions, were a very talented team. Of the 12 players whose names appear in the New York Times box score of the game, 11 played in the major leagues at one time or another in their baseball careers.
3 Louis Effrat, “Brooks Win, 14-6, With 11-Run Fifth,” New York Times, April 12, 1947: 12. Effrat also reported that Dixie Walker said he had been misquoted and denied that he had voiced disapproval of Robinson.
4 Jackie Robinson, “Jackie Robinson Says,” Pittsburgh Courier, April 19, 1947: 18.
5 Hy Turkin, “Robinson Bought by Dodgers; Hitless as Royals Win, 4-3,” New York Daily News, April 11, 1947: 63.
7 Irv Goldfarb, “Spring Training in Havana,” in Lyle Spatz, ed., The Team That Forever Changed Baseball and America, The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012), 3-5.
8 Michael Gaven, “Jackie Robinson Gets Chance with Flatbush Troupe,” The Sporting News, April 16, 1947: 1.
9 Roger Kahn, Rickey & Robinson (New York: Rodale Press, 2014), 236. Robinson told Kahn, “I wasn’t pleased. Now, in addition to everything else, I was going to have to learn a new position.”
10 “Text of the Decision by Commissioner Chandler,” New York Times, April 10, 1947: 31.
11 Louis Effrat, “Chandler Bars Durocher for 1947 Baseball Season, New York Times, April 10, 1947: 1; Dan Daniel, “Chandler Rolls Up Sleeves for New Swings,” The Sporting News, April 16, 1947: 1.
12 Dick Young, “Flock Scores 11 in 5th to Blast Yanks, 14-6, New York Daily News, April 12, 1947: 29.
13 Effrat, April 12, 1947.
14 Louis Effrat, “Yankees’ 11 Hits Beat Dodgers, 8-1, for Series Lead,” New York Times, April 13, 1947: 5-1.
15 Louis Effrat, “Bombers’ 4 in 9th Down Brooks, 10-9,” New York Times, April 14, 1947: 19.
17 Effrat, April 12, 1947.
Brooklyn Dodgers 14
New York Yankees 6
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