Jackie Robinson was relieved to be back in Montreal. The Montreal Royals, a Triple-A affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers, had just dropped two of the first three games of the Junior World Series in Louisville under trying circumstances. While fans of the Louisville Colonels were thrilled to see their team back in the series for the third consecutive year, many were upset at having to host integrated baseball games. A vocal Louisville group, attempting to maintain their strict segregationist tradition, even demanded that the series be canceled.1 The new baseball commissioner, Happy Chandler, made it clear to the Colonels that Jackie was going to play.2
Robinson was vigorously booed by most White fans from the moment he stepped out of the dugout for Game One at Parkway Field. A torrent of racist insults rained down upon him from the stands, although he was cheered by Black fans in the small Jim Crow section down the right-field line.3 Jackie was subjected to boos and taunts every time he moved a muscle during the three games in Kentucky.4 “If I were in his place, I would have thrown my glove on the ground and left the field and baseball altogether,” admitted Colonels center fielder George Bennington during the train ride to Montreal for Game Four.5 “Robinson is truly extraordinary.”
Louisville players had been instructed by the Office of the Commissioner to refrain from using racial insults against him, and they complied with the directive, though they didn’t exactly go easy on him. Colonels catcher Fred Walters attempted to injure Robinson by spiking him in Game One and Louisville pitchers weren’t afraid to pitch him inside. “I remember our starting pitcher that day, Jim Wilson, knocked him down, and the fans cheered,” recalled Colonels hurler Otis “Otey” Clark.6
Although Robinson refused to admit it at the time, the abuse in Louisville affected his play. He went 0-for-5 in Game One, the first and only time he was held hitless in five at-bats that season, and he committed an uncharacteristic fielding error in Game Two. His batting line over the first three games was a wretched 1-for-10 with three strikeouts. After watching him win the batting title and play outstanding defense all season long, his teammates knew he was capable of much more. “Robinson didn’t play well down here, but wait till you see him in Montreal, where the fans are his friends,” predicted his double-play partner, Al Campanis.7
The baseball fans in Montreal, perhaps partially in response to hearing of the indignities that he faced during spring training in Florida, had been fully behind Robinson from the beginning of the regular season.8 Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey had surrounded Jackie with a talented group of veteran ballplayers, and they dominated the International League from wire to wire, posting a 100-54 record and finishing a whopping 18½ games ahead of the second-place Syracuse Chiefs. The Royals were an offensive juggernaut, scoring 1,019 runs and stealing 189 bases in the regular season, which left every other team in the dust.9
The Colonels, champions of the American Association, relied on outstanding pitching, speed, and defense to win games. Their offense was mediocre until their parent club, the Boston Red Sox, acquired 34-year-old outfielder Jim Gleeson in a trade with the Cardinals in early July.10 When Gleeson joined the team on July 7, the Colonels were mired in third place with a 44-38 record, 6½ games behind the St. Paul Saints, Brooklyn’s other Triple-A affiliate. Louisville went 48-23 (.676) for the remainder of the season and finished four games ahead of second-place Indianapolis.
Louisville cruised through the American Association playoffs, easily defeating St. Paul and Indianapolis, which earned the Colonels a five-day break before facing the Royals. Montreal knocked off the Newark Bears, led by 21-year-old Yogi Berra, in six games in the International League semifinals, and then dispatched the pugnacious Syracuse Chiefs in five games in the finals.11
Glen Moulder, 10-6 with a 3.25 ERA during the regular season, was the Royals’ Game Four starter. The right-hander had come on in relief to save Game One by getting the dangerous Al Flair to hit a popup for the final out with a runner on base in a 7-5 Montreal victory.
Clark (11-7, 2.89 ERA), a 31-year-old right-hander making his first and only appearance in the series, took to the mound for Louisville. Surprisingly, he had faced Robinson before even though the two players had never played in the same league. While with Boston just before the start of the 1945 season, Clark had thrown batting practice to Robinson, Sam Jethroe, and Marvin Williams at Fenway Park during the bogus tryout of the three Negro League players.12 The charade would come back to haunt the Red Sox organization for decades.
The Montreal fans, many of whom had listened to the radio broadcast of the first three games of the series, were acutely aware of Robinson’s ill-treatment in Louisville.13 Many took the abuse directed at their beloved second baseman personally. The fans at De Lorimier Stadium booed lustily when the Colonels took to the field, and they proceeded to boo every single Louisville player throughout the game.14 “I didn’t approve of this kind of retaliation,” Robinson said years later, “but I felt a jubilant sense of gratitude for the way Canadians expressed their feelings.”15 As a further show of support, the fans gave Jackie a rousing standing ovation.
The Colonels scored a couple of quick runs in the top of the first inning and were up 4-0 by the middle of the fifth, with three of those runs knocked in by Flair. Montreal closed the gap to 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth before Moulder ran into more trouble by walking the first three batters in the sixth inning. That caused Royals manager Clay Hopper to call for his most effective reliever, Frank Laga, to come out of the pen. Laga slammed the door by setting down the next three Colonels to escape the bases-loaded jam.16 Dixie Howell’s home run in the bottom of the sixth cut the lead to 4-2, and the teams exchanged runs in the eighth inning to make the score 5-3.
Clark, as usual, had shown excellent control in the game, walking only a single batter through the first eight innings. After he retired Campanis for the first out of the ninth inning, it appeared that the Colonels were destined to take a three-games-to-one stranglehold in the series. Pinch-hitter Herman Franks, who had an outstanding batting eye, drew a walk. After Marv Rackley hit into a fielder’s choice, Robinson, 1-for-4 in the game, stepped to the plate with Montreal down to its final out. Jackie also had excellent plate discipline, and he too walked. Clark issued his third base on balls of the inning to the next batter, Tommy Tatum, to load the bases, and his evening on the hill was over. Lefty Joe Ostrowski fared no better, walking Les Burge to bring in Rackley with Montreal’s fourth run, which advanced Tatum to second base and Robinson to third. The catcher Walters threw wildly to second base trying to pick off Tatum, and an alert Robinson scampered home to tie the game, 5-5. Incredibly, the Royals had scored a pair of crucial runs without registering a hit, and the game went into extra innings.
Montreal’s Game One winner, Chet Kehn, threw a scoreless top of the 10th inning. In the bottom of the frame, the Royals continued to benefit from the generosity of Colonels pitchers. Ostrowski’s throwing error on Howell’s groundball put the potential winning run on base with nobody out. Ostrowski compounded matters by fielding Earl Naylor’s sacrifice attempt and throwing late to second base, and now runners were on first and second. With righty Mel Deutsch pitching, Campanis advanced both runners with a sacrifice. Kehn followed with Montreal’s third consecutive bunt, except this one was an attempt to score the catcher Howell on a squeeze play, but Walters blocked the plate and tagged Howell for out number two.
With the top of the order coming up, the Colonels were forced with a dilemma. They could pitch to the lefty Rackley, 6-for-19 to that point in the series, or the right-handed-hitting Robinson, who was only 2-for-14. Louisville chose to intentionally walk Rackley to setup a force at every base and enjoy the platoon advantage. The decision handed Robinson a chance to avenge his harsh treatment in Louisville, and it was an opportunity he did not pass up. Jackie blasted a single over shortstop Jack Albright’s head to drive in Naylor with the winning run.
The victory evened the seven-game series at two wins apiece. With all remaining games set to be played in friendly De Lorimier Stadium, Jackie Robinson and the Montreal Royals had all the momentum on their side.
The author is grateful for the research assistance provided by fellow SABR member Marcel Dugas.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 Roger Kahn, Rickey & Robinson: The True, Untold Story of the Integration of Baseball (New York: Rodale Books, 2014), 217-218.
2 Commissioner Chandler claimed to have sent a message to the president of the Louisville Colonels, Bruce Dudley, telling him, “The colored boy has every right to play.”
3 The attendance for Game One was 13,716. Although an estimated 20,000 African-American fans wanted to purchase tickets for the game, the Colonels refused to sell any more than the 466 tickets normally available to Black fans in the Jim Crow section. Team President Bruce Dudley said he was afraid that a large crowd of Black fans would lead to a race riot. Approximately 1,500 Black fans were turned away at the gate, many of whom watched the game from nearby rooftops and telephone poles, and atop freight cars. After much criticism, the team sold more tickets to Black fans for the next two games.
4 Marcel Dugas, Jackie Robinson, Un Été à Montréal (A Summer in Montreal) (Montréal: Éditions Hurtubise, 2019), Chapitre 4: Les séries (Chapter 4: The playoffs).
5 Jack Jedwab, Jackie Robinson’s Unforgettable Season of Baseball in Montreal (Montreal: Les Éditions Images, 1996), 40. Although the quote is attributed to an unnamed Colonels player in Jedwab’s book, the October 3, 1946, edition of La Presse newspaper includes the French translation of this quote and attributes it to George Bennington.
6 Kahn, Rickey & Robinson, 218.
7 William Brown, Baseball’s Fabulous Montreal Royals (Westmount, Quebec: Robert Davies Publishing, 1996), 110.
8 Due to Florida’s segregationist policies, Robinson was unable to stay in the same hotels or eat in the same restaurants as his teammates. Early in spring training, he was forced to flee Sanford after his personal safety was threatened. The Royals chose to relocate their spring training to Daytona Beach, which was less hostile to integration. Although the Royals could play integrated games in Daytona Beach, three of their road games were canceled by local authorities in a six-day period because they did not want integrated baseball games being played in their jurisdiction. On April 7 a police officer in Sanford came onto the field in the bottom of the second inning and ordered Robinson and teammate John Wright to leave. They were forced to comply. To avoid any further issues, the Royals decided to cancel four exhibition games they were to play as the team traveled north to start the regular season.
9 Montreal’s 1,019 runs were 217 more than the number-two team in runs scored, the Buffalo Bisons. The Royals’ 189 stolen bases more than doubled those of the Baltimore Orioles, who finished a distant second in steals with 84.
10 Jim Gleeson had five years of major-league experience under his belt, including an outstanding 1940 season with the Chicago Cubs. In 551 plate appearances that season, Gleeson posted a .313/.389/.470 slash line and 4.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). In the 1946 season, Gleeson hit .306 in 148 games split between Columbus and Louisville in the American Association. He also led all players in the 1946 Junior World Series with nine RBIs.
11 The Syracuse players treated Jackie Robinson worse than any other Montreal opponent in 1946. They baited him mercilessly with racist taunts whenever the two teams met.
13 The games in Louisville were broadcast on two radio stations: CJAD (English) and CHLP (French). It was rare to broadcast road games at the time. Even the New York Yankees only began the live broadcasting all road games on radio in 1946.
14 Dugas, Jackie Robinson, Un Été à Montréal (A Summer in Montreal), Chapitre 4: Les séries (Chapter 4: The playoffs). The name “De Lorimier Stadium” is used instead of “Delorimier Stadium” to reflect the correct French name. The English press at the time anglicized the name incorrectly.
15 Brown, Baseball’s Fabulous Montreal Royals, 110.
16 Dink Carroll, “Jackie Robinson Is Hero as Royals Edge Colonels 6-5 to Tie Up Series,” Montreal Gazette, October 3, 1946: 16.
Montreal Royals 6
Louisville Colonels 5
Game 4, Junior World Series
De Lorimier Stadium
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