May 21, 1949: Jackie Robinson sets career high with 6 RBIs in Dodgers’ lambasting of Cardinals

This article was written by Richard Cuicchi

Courtesy of the Trading Card DatabaseBrooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey took a calculated gamble in the historic signing of Jackie Robinson in 1946, eventually enabling the integration of major-league baseball. Robinson didn’t disappoint the Dodgers. He was voted the game’s first-ever Rookie of the Year in 1947. Other spectacular seasons followed. Baseball fans soon grew to like his energetic, aggressive style of play that helped propel the Dodgers into a perennial power.

Robinson emerged as the best player on the team in 1948, leading the Dodgers in runs, hits, doubles, and RBIs. He finished second in home runs, slugging percentage, and stolen bases. The Dodgers grew accustomed to his heroics, so there was little surprise when he became the best player in the league in 1949. Perhaps with an element of bias, Rickey declared him “the best since Cobb.”1

The game on May 21, 1949, before 13,320 fans at Sportsman’s Park was one of his best. He set a career high for RBIs in one game with six.

After hitting just .188 in April, Robinson had raised his batting average by more than 100 points – to .298 – when the Dodgers squared off against the Cardinals. The Dodgers held third place in the National League while the Cardinals were in seventh, but the two teams would be neck-and-neck for first place throughout most of the season.

Right-hander Ralph Branca got the starting nod for Burt Shotton’s Dodgers. The 23-year-old had won all six of his previous, including five in which he pitched nine or more innings. The Cardinals countered with Jim Hearn, who was winless in three previous starts.

After the Dodgers scored a run in the top of the first inning, the Cardinals jumped on Branca in the bottom half, sending nine batters to the plate and scoring three runs on four hits and two walks. Enos Slaughter and Eddie Kazak supplied the run-scoring hits. Branca didn’t last past the second inning. He took himself out of the game, afterward, saying, “My arm felt fine but I just couldn’t get anything on the ball.”2

The Cardinals sent only nine batters to the plate over the next three innings. The Dodgers took a 4-3 lead in the fourth inning on Robinson’s two-run double and Gil Hodges’ single that scored Robinson. Branca was off the hook.

The Dodgers added to their lead in the fifth when they manufactured a run on Pee Wee Reese’s walk and stolen base, a bunt single by Dick Whitman, and Robinson’s groundout to second base.

The Cardinals pulled to within a run at 5-4 in the sixth inning on Hal Rice’s double, scoring  Rocky Nelson, who had tripled. But in the next inning, Robinson and Hodges combined again to get back-to-back run-scoring hits that made the score 7-4. The Cardinals could have prevented the run on Robinson’s hit if outfielder Ron Northey had thrown to the correct base and kept Robinson from advancing into scoring position.

Cardinals rookie sensation Kazak kept the game close with a two-run home run in the eighth. It would have tied the game had Northey thrown to the right base in the prior inning.

The Cardinals had veteran Howard Pollet warming up in the bullpen, since he had a good record of success against the Dodgers. However, with his team  trailing, manager Eddie Dyer instead chose Ken Johnson to start the ninth inning.3

The Dodgers put the game out of reach, unloading eight more runs by sending 12 batters to the plate. While fans jeered the hapless St. Louis pitchers, Robinson ripped a double to account for two more runs, while Carl Furillo hit a run-scoring single. Inexperienced Ray Yochim, the Cardinals’ fifth hurler, who replaced Johnson, didn’t produce different results. He yielded a two-run single to Eddie Miksis, followed by Reese’s three-run home run.

The Dodgers battered Cardinals pitchers for 16 hits, with every starting position player getting in on the action. Reese led the team with four hits, followed by Robinson’s three. It was the second time in the 1949 season that Brooklyn scored eight runs in an inning, the other being against the Giants at the Polo Grounds on April 28.

Robinson continued his torrid hitting during the rest of May, ending with a slash line of .431/.480/.741, with 6 home runs and 34 RBIs. Arguably, it was the best single month of his career.

For the rest of the season, he reached base at a fantastic rate and finished the season with a .432 on-base percentage, tied with Ralph Kiner and second only to Stan Musial’s .438. He had a streak of 35 consecutive games getting on base that started on May 24. He posted another streak of 27 games as well as four additional stretches of at least 10 games.

The Dodgers’ home ballpark, Ebbets Field, hosted the 1949 All-Star Game. Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Roy Campanella became the first Black National League players chosen for  the annual classic. (Larry Doby from the Indians, the American League’s first Black player, was named to the junior league’s All-Star squad that same year.) Only Ted Williams received more votes than Robinson on the All-Star rosters.4

The Dodgers were never more than four games out of first place the entire season. Except for one day, they held the lead from June 7 to July 23. The Cardinals then overtook the Dodgers, and the pennant winner was decided in the final days. With the Cardinals losing eight of their last 14 games, the Dodgers eventually recaptured first place on September 29 and won their second pennant in three years. Oddly, the Cardinals were the only team against which the Dodgers had a losing record that season. Brooklyn lost the World Series to the Yankees in five games.

Robinson capped his spectacular season by beating out Musial for the National League MVP Award. Third-place finisher Enos Slaughter declared, “Without Robinson, [Brooklyn] would be in the second division.”5 Robinson led the league in batting average (.342) and stolen bases (37), while posting 16 home runs and driving in a career-best 124 runs, much better than his 162-game average of 86. His final slash line was a phenomenal .342/.432/.528.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted and the following:

Burr, Harold. “Dodgers Pummel Cards by 16-5, Exploding 8 Runs in Last Inning,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 22, 1949: 24.



1 Harold Burr, “Brooks Bill Jackie as Big Show of N.L.,” The Sporting News, June 8, 1949: 20.

2 Roscoe McGowen, “Dodgers Get 8 Runs in Ninth and Overwhelm Cards, 15-5,” New York Times, May 22, 1949: 5, 1.

3 Bob Broeg, “Dodgers Rout Cards, 15-6; Robinson Drives in 6 Runs,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 22, 1949: 5, 1.

4 “Williams, Jackie Top Record Vote,” The Sporting News, July 13, 1949: 2.

5 Arnold Rampersad, Jackie Robinson: A Biography (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1997), 216.

Additional Stats

Brooklyn Dodgers 15
St. Louis Cardinals 6

Sportsman’s Park
St. Louis, MO


Box Score + PBP:

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1940s ·