Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers were slumping as they prepared to wrap up the season series with the sixth-place Cincinnati Reds (64-79) in Flatbush. Skipper Chuck Dressen’s squad still possessed the best record (89-53) in the big leagues and held a comfortable three-game lead over the New York Giants in the pennant race, but ’Dem Bums had lost 13 of their last 21 games. The 33-year-old Robinson, the heart and soul of the team’s high-scoring offense, had managed just 11 hits in his last 51 at-bats, dropping his batting average to .302. Never one to panic, Dressen knew the team needed to turn things around with the red-hot Giants (winners of 11 of their last 15 contests) on their tail.
It was a dreadful Monday afternoon in Brooklyn with weather more conducive to football than baseball. The skies were gloomy, and a light drizzle fell, which ultimately forced the ballpark lights on by the second inning. Temperatures dropped into the 50s. On Ladies Day, the sparse crowd of 2,612 paid spectators, plus 1,642 women and 100 knotholers, was “chilled and dampened,” noted the Brooklyn Eagle.1
Toeing the rubber for the Dodgers was 25-year-old right-hander Carl Erskine, who had enjoyed a breakout season as a swingman in ’51, winning 16 games. Used almost exclusively as a starter in ’52, Erskine had pitched well (12-6, 2.78 ERA), but had suffered from elbow pain in the last weeks. Brooklyn sportswriter Dave Anderson reported that the pitcher had his right elbow “sprayed … with ethyl chloride before and during the game” to deaden the pain.2 Whether from discomfort or the inclement playing conditions, Erskine was erratic in the opening frame, loading the bases with one out on a single and two walks. His third walk, to Jim Greengrass, forced in the game’s first run. It appeared as if Erskine might not make it through the first inning, but two consecutive punchouts defused the threat.
The Reds had one of baseball’s greatest hitters on their team, but he was their manager, Rogers Hornsby, the club’s third skipper of the season. The Dodgers knew the Raj’s choice for starting pitcher very well. Right-hander Bud Podbielan had been a mop-up artist for the Dodgers the previous three years and had been reduced to pitching primarily batting practice until the club traded him to the Reds two months earlier. Shut out by Herm Wehmeier on six hits the day before to suffer just their fifth loss in 21 games against the Reds in ’52, the Dodgers took their whacks against their former teammate. Carl Furillo led off with a single, Duke Snider lined another with one out, then Jackie Robinson blasted one into the left-corner seats for his first home run in 17 games to give the Dodgers a 3-1 lead.3
The game’s next four runs were all leadoff solo home runs off the starting pitchers. Two were from Snider, who connected in the third for what sportswriter Dick Young of the Daily News described as a “tremendous poke” that soared beyond the flagpole on the left side of the scoreboard.4 In the fifth he launched his 19th round-tripper of the season “high over the right-field screen.”5 Between the Duke’s shots were Gil Hodges’ fourth-inning bomb into the left-field seats. It was his 31st home run and 100th RBI of the season, Hodges becoming the first Brooklyn player to knock in 100 or more runs in four consecutive seasons. The Reds’ light-hitting Bobby Adams joined the home-run parade in the fifth.6
Leading 6-2, the Dodgers were poised to tack on some more runs in the sixth. They loaded the bags with singles by Billy Cox and Furillo and a walk to Pee Wee Reese, all off Bubba Church, the Reds’ third reliever of the game. But Church registered his third strikeout of the frame, fanning Snider, to end the threat.
Erskine was back on the mound in the bottom of the seventh, but was laboring. He yielded a leadoff single to Johnny Temple, then issued a season-high sixth walk two batters later to Willard Marshall. After retiring Ted Kluszewski for the second out, Erskine stared down rookie Jim Greengrass, who had connected off the Dodgers’ Johnny Rutherford in the previous game for a grand slam, his first major-league home run. Greengrass parked Erskine’s offering in the lower left-center stands for a three-run home run. With one swing, the game was suddenly close.
But the Dodgers wasted little time in padding their 6-5 lead. Robinson, who would finish the season with a big-league-best .440 on-base-percentage, coaxed a walk from Church to lead off the seventh. After Andy Pafko singled, Roy Campanella blasted one to deep left field. Racing back, Joe Adcock “got his glove-top on the drive, couldn’t hold on,” wrote Dick Young, and Robinson scored.7 It was his 100th run of the season.
Rubber-armed reliever Frank Smith replaced Church and intentionally walked Hodges despite the righty-righty matchup; then again, Hodges at the time ranked third in home runs and second in RBIs in the NL. Cox hit a tailor-made double-play grounder to Roy McMillan. The “flashy shortstop,” opined Young, used poor judgment and instead of taking the DP, threw home.8 The toss pulled catcher Hobie Landrith off the plate and Pafko scored (unearned) to make it 8-5. George Shuba, pinch-hitting for Erskine, added another run on a fly out. McMillan would become one of the best shortstops of the 1950s, but his tough inning continued. According to Dick Young, he collided with third baseman Bobby Adams on Furillo’s routine double-play grounder; Adams held onto the ball and tossed to second to erase Cox while Hodges scored the Dodgers’ fourth run of the inning.
The Dodgers tallied their 11th and final run in the eighth on Jackie Robinson’s solo shot off reliever Joe Nuxhall. It was Jackie’s 19th round-tripper of the season, matching his career-best from the previous season. It was also the third of eight times that he hit two home runs in a game.
In an era when relievers were often failed starters, Dressen had a unique weapon: Joe Black. The 28-year-old right-hander was a trail-blazing rookie in 1952, but had loads of experience. He established his reputation with the Negro League Baltimore Elite Giants, where he was a teammate of Campanella’s. Making his 51st appearance of the season, second only to knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm of the Giants, Black retired all six batters he faced to end the game in 2 hours and 43 minutes. It was the 38th time Black finished a ballgame, breaking the Dodgers’ team record of 37 set by Hugh Casey in 1947. (Black was ultimately named NL Rookie of the Year and finished third in the NL MVP voting, just 18 points behind winner Hank Sauer and three points behind Robin Roberts in one of the closest three-way ballots in baseball history.)
The Dodgers’ big bats were the story of the game. They tied a team record with five home runs (achieved many times). Their “resurgence came at a most timely and critical point of the year,” noted Anderson.9 The team went on to win six of the final 11 games (one was a tie) to capture its third pennant in six years. And for the third time since 1947 “Dem Bums” played their archrivals, the New York Yankees. They succumbed yet again, this time in agonizing fashion, losing Games Six and Seven at Ebbets Field.
Jackie Robinson ended his slump in dramatic fashion with this game. Given a few days off down the stretch with the Dodgers’ pennant in hand, Robinson went 11-for-26 in his final 10 games while slugging .769. He finished the season with 19 home runs, 75 RBIs, and a .308 batting average. By one modern metric that was not used in his time, Robinson was the most valuable offensive player in the major leagues by leading baseball in Offensive WAR (7.9) and WAR for position player (8.5).10
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, SABR.org, and The Sporting News archive via Paper of Record.
McGowen, Roscoe. “Brooklyn Victor on 5 Homers, 11-5,” New York Times, September 16, 1952.
Smith, Lou. “Brooklyn Trims Redlegs, Hold Edge,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 16, 1952: 21
1 Dave Anderson, “Dodgers Low in Majors on Miscue Totem Pole,” Brooklyn Eagle, September 16, 1952: 15.
2 Anderson, “Dodgers Low in Majors on Miscue Totem Pole.”
3 Home run location from Dick Young, “Flock Clips Reds, 11-5; 5 HRs Hold 3-Up Lead,” (New York) Daily News, September 16, 1952: 58.
5 Dave Anderson, “‘Please, Lord, Let There Be No Miracle This Year,’” Brooklyn Eagle, September 16, 1952: 15.
6 Adams entered the game with just 22 home runs in 2,411 at-bats.
9 Anderson, “‘Please, Lord, Let There Be No Miracle This Year.’”
10 WAR, an acronym for Wins Above Replacement, is according to Fangraphs, “an attempt by the sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic.” It represents the number of wins a player provided compared with a replacement player. See Steve Slowinski, “What is WAR,” Fangraphs, February 10, 2010. library.fangraphs.com/misc/war/.