Jackie Robinson’s time in Montreal was fleeting, but he still made an impact on baseball and the world in 1946. Before the 27-year-old Robinson began to wear the famous Brooklyn Dodger blue with number 42 on his back, he wore uniform number 9 and led the International League in batting with a .349 average (a Royals record) and a league-best 113 runs scored (tied with Soup Campbell of Baltimore.) He stole 40 stolen bases and drove home 66 runs.
When the opening pitch was thrown at the 1946 Junior World Series, it was the first time a Black man had appeared on the field in such a significant game below the Mason-Dixon line. After a season in which the Montreal Royals finished with a spectacular 100-54 win-loss record, 18½ games ahead of their International League competition, they were set to meet the Louisville Colonels, who finished at 92-61 and bested their competition in the American Association. The 1946 Junior World Series was the first time in nine years that the two teams with the best regular-season records were facing off in the best-of-seven series.
GAME ONE SEPTEMBER 28, 1946 MONTREAL ROYALS 7, LOUISVILLE COLONELS 5 AT PARKWAY FIELD, LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY
Robinson started off the series sluggishly, producing an 0-for-5 at the plate in front of an animated crowd of Southerners not accustomed to seeing a Black man on a professional baseball diamond. It was the first time all season that Robinson had gone 0-for-5.
Louisville did not exactly roll out the welcome mat for Robinson. He was not allowed to stay in the team hotel and Colonels ownership placed quotas on how many African American fans would be allowed into the ballpark for each series game. Everything he did, “They booed him,” said Colonels pitcher Otey Clark. “I remember our pitcher Jim Wilson knocked him down, and the fans cheered. Robinson didn’t seem to pay attention to any of it.”1
Despite Robinson’s struggles at the plate, Game One was a success for the Royals, a 7-5 victory in front of the crowd of 13,716 at Parkway Field in Louisville.
Many years later, Louisville infielder Al Brancato recalled, “It was a very exciting time, because of all the controversy surrounding Jackie being the first Black player. He didn’t even have a place to stay. There were no hotels that would take him, so they didn’t even know whether or not they were even going to play.”2
Jim Wilson got the start the on the mound for the Colonels but after yielding 11 hits and all seven Royals runs over his 7⅔ innings, he was not around to finish the affair. Tom Tatum clubbed two doubles and a triple for the Royals, while first baseman Les Burge blasted Wilson for two home runs. The Royals took a 7-2 lead into the final inning, but a walk and two triples quickly produced two runs for Louisville. Manager Clay Hopper had the bullpen close the door and ensure the Royals their victory.
GAME TWO SEPTEMBER 29, 1946 LOUISVILLE COLONELS 3, MONTREAL ROYALS 0 AT PARKWAY FIELD, LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY
Robinson’s mental strain was seemingly still in place, with the Royals dropping the game 3-0. Robinson went 0-for-2 at the plate, with an uncharacteristic error at second base.
Right-hander Curt Davis started on the hill for the Royals, and the Colonels wasted no time getting on the board with two runs in the first frame. The Royals made concerted efforts in the fourth and the sixth innings to get something going but were stifled on both attempts by Fritz Dorish, who dominated all day with a steady diet of sinkers and curves. The 6-foot-4-inch right-hander held Montreal to just two hits, both by Montreal right fielder Marv Rackley.3 Dorish starred at the plate as well, adding two hits and a run batted in to help the cause.
The visiting Royals were able to muster only six baserunners, including a walk to Robinson, and found themselves in an intensely competitive series tied one game apiece.
GAME THREE SEPTEMBER 30, 1946 LOUISVILLE COLONELS 15, MONTREAL ROYALS 6 AT PARKWAY FIELD, LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY
With Branch Rickey in attendance in Louisville, Robinson fared better at the plate and put up a solid 1-for-3 performance with two runs scored, but the Royals were ultimately thumped by Louisville, 15-6. The Royals took the lead in the first inning after Rackley tripled down the right-field line and Robinson drew a walk. Tom Tatum chimed in with the first of his three hits, driving in Rackley and moving Robinson to second base. Louisville third baseman Al Brancato fumbled Les Burge’s sacrifice bunt to load the bases. The next Montreal hitter, catcher Herman Franks, flipped a single to right field, scoring Robinson.
In the bottom of the inning, the Colonels put three runs across the plate. Center fielder George Bennington started things off with an infield hit. Pitcher Steve Nagy then threw wildly to first base on left fielder John Welaj ’s dribbler toward third, permitting Bennington to score and allowing Welaj to amble down to second base. Right fielder Jim Gleason then singled to drive in Welaj; Nagy walked the next two hitters, forcing the third run of the inning home.
In the third inning a wild Nagy was driven from the game. After allowing a double to second baseman Chuck Koney, Nagy gave up two more walks and the bases were loaded. George Bennington’s single to left drove in Koney. Frank Laga was summoned from the bullpen to relieve Nagy and served up a single to pinch-hitter Strick Shofner, driving in two more runs for the Colonels. The Royals were now heading home to Canada down two games to one in the series.
Robinson later noted that the trip to Louisville was one of the worst road trips during his time in baseball due to the hostile Louisville crowds in the Jim Crow South.
GAME FOUR OCTOBER 2, 1946 MONTREAL ROYALS 6, LOUISVILLE COLONELS 5 (10 INNINGS) AT DELORIMIER STADIUM, MONTREAL
Returning to Montreal, the Royals were greeted by a joyful crowd of 14,685 at Delorimier Stadium.
Robinson recalled, “We discovered that the Canadians were up in arms over the way I had been treated. Greeting us warmly, they let us know how they felt. All through that first game (at home) they booed every time a Louisville player came out of the dugout.”4
It had snowed the night before, and the temperature was hovering around 8 degrees with some spotty snow still on the ground when the first pitch was thrown. The Royals had to battle all game to draw themselves even in the series. Glen Moulder got the call to toe the rubber for the Royals and surrendered eight hits over five innings before being lifted for Frank Laga in the sixth inning.
The Colonels started to build their lead in the first frame, scoring two runs, and added another in the third. The Royals broke through in the fifth inning when Al Campanis started off with a ringing double off the right-field fence, moved to third on a groundout by Moulder, and scored when second baseman Chuck Koney threw out Rackley at first base.
Frank Laga was summoned to the mound in the top of the sixth when Moulder walked the first three batters. Laga and the Royals were able to escape the inning unharmed. In the Royals half of the sixth, Dixie Howell homered and cut the Colonels’ lead to two runs.
As the game moved into the later innings, Louisville scored again in the top of the eighth. The Royals were able to match them in the bottom half to keep the game within two runs.
In the bottom of the ninth the Royals rallied to tie the game with the help of some Louisville defensive blunders. Pinch-hitter Franks started things off with a walk. With two outs, Otey Clark walked Robinson and Tom Tatum to load the bases for lefty Les Burge. Louisville manager Nemo Leibold countered with lefty Joe Ostrowski. Ostrowski walked Burge, forcing in a run and putting the Royals within a single tally of tying the game. Colonels catcher Fred Walters then noticed that baserunner Tom Tatum was straying too far from second and threw down to try to nab him. His throw went wild and, on a heads-up play, the speedy Robinson scampered home to tie the game.
Hopper called on pitcher Chet Kehn to start the 10th inning and he made quick work of the Colonels. In the bottom of the inning, the Royals’ blessings continued. Howell reached on an error by Ostrowski and moved to second on the next play when Ostrowski, fielding a bunt by center fielder Earl Naylor, tried to cut down the lead runner at second with no reward. Mel Deutsch was quickly called upon to stop the bleeding. Campanis sacrificed the runners to second and third. The Royals then tried to squeeze Howell home for the win. Kehn’s attempt fell short when Colonels catcher Walters blocked the plate while applying the tag for the out. Rackley was then intentionally walked to set up a force-play situation. The strategy set up Jackie Robinson to be the hero. Robinson wasted no time, shooting a line drive over the shortstop’s head to drive in Naylor and seal the 6-5 victory for the Royals. Robinson’s single made him 2-for-5 with the game-winning RBI.
GAME FIVE OCTOBER 3, 1946 MONTREAL ROYALS 5, LOUISVILLE COLONELS 3 AT DELORIMIER STADIUM, MONTREAL
Hopper was awarded a victory and a contract extension for his 45th birthday. Montreal scored a single run in each of the first three innings. The Colonels got to Nagy for one run in the fifth inning and added two in the seventh to tie the score.
Kehn was called upon again in the eighth after Nagy walked the leadoff batter. In the bottom of the seventh, the Royals had charged ahead when Robinson slashed a triple into the left-center-field gap to start the noise. Tatum and Burge popped out and the Colonels seemed to be out of the woods. But Lew Riggs had other things in mind: He lined a double deep down the right-field line, scoring Robinson and vaulting the Royals back into the lead.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Royals added an insurance run on a bunt by Robinson that scored Campanis from third. Robinson easily beat the throw to first for an infield hit.
Robinson’s woes at the plate seemed to be behind him for good. He collected three hits, scored twice, and drove home a run.
GAME SIX OCTOBER 4, 1946 MONTREAL ROYALS 2, LOUISVILLE COLONELS 0 AT DELORIMIER STADIUM, MONTREAL
The home crowd of 19,171 was ready to crown Robinson and the Royals as champions. All the scoring came in the second inning. After 10 previous innings pitched in the series, the Royals were finally able to score some runs off right-hander Fritz Dorish. He walked Riggs to lead off the second. Catcher Howell drove a ball down the left-field line, scoring Riggs with what would be the series-winning run. Montreal added an insurance run on Campanis’s single that sent Riggs home.
Robinson ended the series with a .333 batting average, even after managing only a 1-for-11 line in the first three games in Louisville. After the series-clinching victory, Hopper – a Mississippi native who did not welcome Robinson to the Royals – made his way over to the second baseman, shook his hand and said, “You’re a real ballplayer and a gentleman. It’s been wonderful having you on the team.”5
The faithful Royals fans refused to leave the ballpark for a full 30 minutes. They screamed for Hopper and refused to leave until Robinson appeared from the clubhouse. Robinson emerged in street clothes, and the mob of fans gathered around him, cheerfully trying to catch a glimpse or possibly even touch their hero. Tears flowed from Robinson’s eyes when the masses lifted him up onto their shoulders chanting and singing, “Il a gagne ses epaulettes (“He won his bars”).6
Robinson commented on the occasion, “When I at last got ready to leave the dressing room, the passageway was blocked with at least three hundred people. Every time I opened the door, they’d start yelling and pushing. I couldn’t get out, and the ushers and police couldn’t break through and come to my rescue. Finally, I had to take a chance. I passed my bag to a friend, hunched my shoulders, and plunged smack into that throng.”7
Minutes later, Robinson got away from the crowd and sprinted to catch a waiting airplane. Sam Maltin, a reporter from the Pittsburgh Courier, famously wrote that it was “probably the only day in history that a black man ran from a white mob with love instead of lynching on the mind.”8
MARC J. STEINER is a lifelong baseball fan who resides in Renton, Washington. He is a senior director of sales in the wine and spirits industry and has been a member of the Northwest Chapter of SABR for almost two years. His primary baseball interests are the Negro Leagues, the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Seattle Mariners. He also is president of the Pony Baseball League in Renton and is also actively involved in coaching youth baseball in his local community.
1 Benjamin Hill, “Robinson Led Royals to Triple-A Title,” MILB.com, September 19, 2006. Robinson led Royals to Triple-A title (milb.com).
https://sabr.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/research-collection4_350x300.jpg300350sabr/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/sabr_logo.pngsabr2022-01-04 14:56:522022-01-04 14:56:52Jackie Robinson: History Made at the 1946 Junior World Series