Jackie Robinson slides to home plate in an attempt to avoid the tag during a game between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers game at Ebbets Field on May 13, 1956. Catcher is Ray Katt. Batter is Clem Labine. It was one of the times he didn’t make it. (NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME LIBRARY)
Jackie Robinson was fast on the basepaths, and he enjoyed “disruptive baserunning” as well – trying to distract the opposing pitcher any way he could. His older brother, Mack, was a sprinter who broke the Olympic record in the 200-meter race at the 1936 Olympics (but still finished behind Jesse Owens). Jack was a speedster himself – “Jackrabbit Jack” – who excelled at Southern California track events as well as broken-field running in football.1
Biographer Arnold Rampersad recounts a baseball game in which Jackie stole second, third, and then home for Pasadena Junior College.2 Indeed, Rampersad cites Pasadena Post sportswriter Rube Samuelsen as writing that “in almost every game” he had stolen second, third, and home at least once, adding, “It’s practically a habit.”3 At UCLA at least once, he was cited for a “sensational steal of home.”4
In major-league baseball, Jackie Robinson stole home 19 times in the regular season and once in the World Series. He was caught stealing home 12 times.
He had baserunning smarts. He was a crafty base-runner. One of Robinson’s more startling moves was the time on Opening Day 1955 when he intentionally allowed himself to be hit by a batted ball in a game the Dodgers were leading, 1-0. The bases were loaded with one out. Robinson had been on second base. He allowed himself to be struck by an infield grounder off the bat of Roy Campanella. That resulted, of course, in Robinson being ruled out. But it also prevented what would almost certainly have been a double play, and it left the bases still loaded, Campy on first.5
MINOR-LEAGUE YEAR – WITH THE MONTREAL ROYALS IN 1946
The Dodgers executive who signed Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey, was well aware of Robinson’s talent at distraction on the basepaths. During the spring of 1946, Rickey had told Robinson, “Jackie, we scouted you for a long time. So I know what you can do, and I want you to do it. I want you to run those bases like lightning. I want you to worry the daylights out of those pitchers. Don’t be afraid to take a chance, to try to steal that extra base. Sure, sometimes you’ll get caught but just remember this: I prefer the daring player to one who is afraid to take a chance. Just remember the best base runners get caught, even Ty Cobb. Just go out there and run like the devil.”6
In his very first game with the Montreal Royals, on April 18, 1946, Robinson bunted for a base hit in the fifth inning, stole second base, took third on a daring play on a grounder, and then began hopping around on third base and feinting breaks for home. He drew three throws from relief pitcher Phil Oates and finally induced Oates to balk when he stopped his motion without completing the throw to the plate. It wasn’t a steal of home, but Robinson scored on the balk.7 And then he did it again in the eighth – he was balked home again for another run thanks to his distracting behavior on the basepaths.8
A longtime Montreal Royals rooter wrote to The Sporting News: “I don’t think there’s a smarter player in the International League. … The real trouble starts when he gets on base. Then the boys start throwing the ball around trying to get him. He seems to have the knack of sensing what the pitcher is going to do, like Cobb used to.”9
He’d been booed badly in Baltimore his first visit there but had won the fans over with his play, so much so that Carl Rowan told of a “late-season night when he stole home in a close game and the Baltimore fans gave him a thunderous standing ovation.”10
That fall, during the Little World Series against Louisville, the Colonels won two of the first three games and then the series moved to Montreal. On October 2, the Royals were down by two runs in Game Four, but Louisville pitchers had walked the bases loaded. Louisville lefty Joe Ostrowski walked in one run. Robinson was on third and faked a couple of breaks to the plate. Seeing that the other runners were taking lengthy leads, and figuring Robinson was indeed only faking, the catcher came up firing – and threw to second base, hoping to pick off the runner there. The ball bounced into center field and Robinson took his time trotting home.11 The game was tied, and the Royals won it in the 10th.
MAJOR-LEAGUE CAREER – WITH THE BROOKLYN DODGERS, 1947-1956
JUNE 24, 1947
Jackie Robinson’s first major-league steal of home plate came in Pittsburgh on June 24, 1947. Several teams were contending for first place in the National League, and the Dodgers had just reached second place, one game behind the Boston Braves. The last-place Pirates hosted the June 24 game at Forbes Field. Each team had scored twice in the second inning and the game was a 2-2 tie heading into the fifth. With one out, the Pirates’ Fritz Ostermueller walked Al Gionfriddo, but Gionfriddo was forced out at second base when Robinson grounded to the third baseman. Robinson went first to third when Carl Furillo singled to left field. On a 2-and-0 count, Furillo stole second base. On the very next pitch, Robinson stole home, beating Ostermueller’s throw “by an eyelash.”12 It proved to be the winning run in a 4-2 Dodgers victory. Robinson had “streaked for the plate and made it with a long slide under Dixie Howell’s tag.”13 Roscoe McGowen of the New York Times suggested that Ostermueller had “learned … that it is unwise to wind up with Jackie Robinson on third base.”14
JULY 19, 1947
Robinson didn’t wait long during this Saturday afternoon game at Ebbets Field. The Cardinals had scored twice in the top of the first, but the Dodgers evened the score quickly. Howie Pollet started for St. Louis. Eddie Stanky walked and Robinson doubled him to third. A foul out to the catcher was followed by Carl Furillo’s fly ball to right field, Robinson tagging up and taking third while Stanky scored. After a four-pitch walk put Dixie Walker on first, with the count 2-and-1 on Pee Wee Reese, Walker and Robinson executed a double steal, Cardinals catcher Del Rice firing the ball to Red Schoendienst at second base and then Robinson just beating the “rather high” return throw from Schoendienst to the plate.15 Robinson’s run tied the game. The Cards ultimately won, 7-5.
JULY 26, 1947 – CAUGHT STEALING
At Forbes Field on July 26, Robinson hit a two-run homer his second time up against Preacher Roe. In the top of the sixth, the Dodgers still held a 3-0 lead. Robinson walked to lead off the inning. With one out, he scampered to third on Furillo’s single. With Dixie Walker batting and the count 1-and-2, Furillo and Robinson tried to get another run in on a double steal. Walker lunged at the pitch and struck out. The throw went to second, but quickly back home and caught Robinson in a rundown, the play going 2-4-5-1 with Roe tagging him out.
AUGUST 29, 1947
Robinson stole home a third time in 1947. It was at home, at Ebbets Field. The fourth-place New York Giants were the visiting team. The Dodgers held a solid 7½-game lead over the pack. The score was tied 1-1 after 5½. Dave Koslo had started for the Giants, but the Dodgers got to him for two runs in the bottom of the sixth. Robinson singled to center off reliever Joe Beggs, making it 5-1. He took second on the throw to the plate, then advanced to third on Pete Reiser’s fly to center field. With Furillo at the plate, Robinson stole home on the very first pitch. Three pitches later, Furillo grounded out, pitcher to first base. Brooklyn won the game, 6-3. Reiser had set the National League record for steals of home in a season, with seven in 1946. Ty Cobb has the major-league record with eight in 1912. More recently, Rod Carew also had seven, for the 1969 Twins.
In September, Time magazine declared of Robinson, “He dances and prances off base, keeping the enemy infield upset and off balance, and worrying the pitcher.”16
JULY 4, 1948
As if stealing home three times in 1947 wasn’t impressive enough, Robinson did it five times in 1948 and five more times in 1949. His first was on the Fourth of July, his 57th game of the season. The Giants were at Ebbets and after six innings held an 8-3 lead. With two out and nobody on in the bottom of the seventh, Reese singled and so did Robinson. Gene Hermanski doubled, scoring Reese and putting Robinson on third. Andy Hansen replaced Giants starter Ray Poat. On Poat’s very first pitch, both Robinson and Hermanski took off. Robinson stole home as Hermanski broke for third. Giants catcher Walker Cooper, “alert to the fact that he couldn’t nail Robinson, made a perfect throw to third base which would have gotten Gene Hermanski, on the other end of the double steal, but Sid Gordon stood still a few feet from the bag and let the ball go into left field.”17 Hermanski came around to score on Gordon’s error. Robinson singled twice more in the game, scoring just the once. Reiser’s two-run single in the bottom of the ninth gave the Dodgers four runs in the inning, enough to edge the Giants, 13-12.
JULY 21, 1948 (1) – CAUGHT STEALING
Robinson attempted three steals of home in a five-day stretch. The first two times, he was thrown out. At Wrigley Field in the first game of a doubleheader, the Dodgers had a comfortable 7-3 ninth-inning lead over the Cubs when Robinson tripled, driving in two runs and making in 9-3. He must have thought he had a shot at the plate. With two outs and a 1-and-1 count, he tried to steal home off Cliff Chambers. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote, “Robinson sought to give the big crowd of 40,280 paid admissions one last thrill and attempted to steal home in the ninth inning of the nightcap, but he went skidding away from the plate and McCullough put the ball on him in transit.”18
JULY 23, 1948 – CAUGHT STEALING
In Pittsburgh for a Friday night game at Forbes Field, Marv Rackley tripled in the top of the fifth to add a run and take a 2-0 lead over the Pirates. Robinson bunted Rackley in for their third run. With two outs, he stole second, taking third base on a throwing error by the catcher. He figured to take one more, stealing home against Mel Queen. It didn’t work. He was cut down at home, “barely nipped at the plate to end the inning.”19 The Dodgers got their fourth run on a seventh-inning leadoff home run by third baseman Tommy Brown, and won the game, 4-3.
JULY 25, 1948 (1)
Still at Forbes Field, the two teams played two on Sunday. It was another game when one run made a difference. The Dodgers were down 5-3 after seven innings. They scored once and had runners on first and second when the Pirates brought in Kirby Higbe to pitch to Robinson. On a 2-and-2 count, a wild pitch saw both baserunners advance. On the next pitch, Higbe hit Robinson. Hermanski then doubled, scoring two, giving the Dodgers a 6-5 lead. Higbe threw two balls to George Shuba. Then Robinson made his move and stole home. Shuba then grounded out, but the Dodgers led, 7-5, and when the Pirates scored once more in the bottom of the ninth, it still left them short by one. It was only Robinson’s fifth steal of the year, and the second one of home. This one proved to be the winning run of the game.
AUGUST 4, 1948
In the top of the first inning, the Cubs went down one-two-three. Marv Rackley tripled leading off Brooklyn’s first. Robinson walked. Hermanski grounded out, Rackley scoring and Robinson taking second. On another groundout, to first base unassisted, Robinson reached third. With Reese at bat and one strike on him, Robinson stole home. “Bob Scheffing, the catcher, had the ball in plenty of time but Frank Dascoli, the plate umpire, said he didn’t put the tag on the sliding runner, a decision that had the Cubs jumping and roaring around the plate until Russ Meyer, the Chicago starting pitcher, was chased out of the game.”20 Cubs manager Charlie Grimm replaced Meyer with Dutch McCall. Reese lined out to second base. The Dodgers saw the Cubs score four times, but added single runs in the seventh, eighth, and ninth and won the game.
AUGUST 22, 1948
This was a game in which the Dodgers ran freely on the basepaths, stealing eight bases against the visiting Boston Braves. Five of the thefts came in the bottom of the fifth. There had been two stolen bases, one run had come in, but there were two outs. An intentional walk to Reese loaded the bases. Billy Cox was at the plate, facing Braves starter Bill Voiselle. The Dodgers pulled off a triple steal. Robinson stole home. Hermanski stole third (his third stolen base of the game), and Reese stole second. It wasn’t as though Voiselle didn’t know Robinson might steal. Clif Keane of the Boston Globe wrote, “Voiselle faked him back to the bag a couple of times then went into a swaying motion while Robinson jumped up and down along the base path. Suddenly Jackie set sail for the plate. Voiselle completed a short windup and fired the ball high to [Bill] Salkeld. The catcher shoved his right foot across the plate while he completed catching the pitch, and it looked as though Robinson’s sliding right foot had been blocked off. However, Umpire Jocko Conlan called Robinson safe, while Salkeld’s gripe lasted only a few seconds.”21 A few pitches later, Cox grounded out. The Braves won the game, 4-3, on Clint Conatser’s two-run homer in the top of the eighth.
SEPTEMBER 3, 1948 (2) – CAUGHT STEALING
Robinson was caught stealing home once more, on September 3. It was a home game, the second of two in a Friday doubleheader against the Giants. Brooklyn lost the first game, 7-5; Robinson was 2-for-4 with an RBI. In the first inning of the second game, he hit a one-out single off starter Andy Hansen. He took second on Hermanski’s single, and then third base when Snider grounded into a 1-6 force play at second base. Snider on first, Robinson on third. He’d successfully stolen home off Hansen back on July 4. Reese was at the plate. He fouled off a couple of pitches. On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Robinson broke for the plate. He was out.
SEPTEMBER 28, 1948
Robinson’s last steal of the season was also against the Braves, the next time they came to Brooklyn. This time Robinson stole against Warren Spahn. The Dodgers had a slim 5-4 lead at midgame. In the bottom of the fifth, Robinson doubled in Eddie Miksis, who had doubled before him. Reese hit a ball deep enough to center field that Robinson was able to tag up and take third. First-pitch swinging, Reiser grounded back to the pitcher. Robinson had to hold, and Spahn threw to first base for the second out. On the first pitch to Furillo, Robinson stole home. The Braves came back with three runs in the top of the eighth, and the game went into extra innings. either team scored in the 10th, 11th, or 12th. Leading off the bottom of the 13th, Robinson homered, winning the game. It was Robinson’s fifth steal of home for the season, and the 14th for the Dodgers as a team.22
MAY 17, 1949 – CAUGHT STEALING
The first time Robinson tried to steal home in 1949, he got caught. After seven innings, the Dodgers held a 1-0 lead over the Chicago Cubs. With two outs and Duke Snider on first, and Cubs starter Monk Dubiel still on the mound, Robinson tripled to right field. Gil Hodges came to bat. On the first pitch, Robinson raced for the plate but was “speared at the plate by an eyelash.”23 The game went into extra innings, and Robinson’s fleetness of foot paid off in the top of the 11th. Leading off, he doubled to left on the first pitch to him. Hodges was up next. First-pitch bunting, he hit the ball back to the pitcher, while Robinson scored all the way from second base on the throw to first base to retire Hodges. Brooklyn scored six runs in the inning, holding off the Cubs, who scored three.
JUNE 2, 1949
“Robinson made his first steal of home in the sixth to the extreme mortification of Harry, the Cat.” So wrote Burr in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.24 The Cardinals were in from St. Louis. They took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Robinson led off the bottom of the second and reached on an error by Cardinals third baseman Eddie Kazak. Harry “The Cat” Brecheen was pitching for St. Louis, with Joe Garagiola catching. Robinson stole second. Gil Hodges popped up to third and Snider struck out, but Roy Campanella singled to center and Robinson scored. It was 3-1, Dodgers, in the sixth. Robinson led off with a single to left. Hodges sacrificed him to second. He took third on Snider’s groundout to first, unassisted. Campanella took the first two pitches for balls. On the third pitch, Robinson stole home, making it 4-1. The Cards scored three runs in the top of the ninth off Dodgers starter Don Newcombe, tying the game, took it into extra innings, and won in the 14th inning, 7-4.
JULY 16, 1949
Cincinnati was visiting Brooklyn. The Reds scored once in the top of the second on catcher Walker Cooper’s home run. In the bottom of the second, Robinson led off and drew a walk. Hodges singled to right, and Robinson took third. After a strikeout, Hodges stole second base. Billy Cox drew a walk, loading the bases. Roy Campanella was up. Strike one. On the next pitch, the three baserunners pulled off a triple steal. Robinson scored, tying the game. It was the only run they got that inning. A photograph in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle shows Robinson sliding across the plate with catcher Cooper having to bend over to his left to catch the ball, a couple of feet from the plate.25 Robinson scored three runs in the game, one on a 10th-inning solo home run, but Cooper had hit another homer (a two-run homer) in the top of the 10th, and the Reds won the game, 7-6.
JULY 18, 1949
The Cubs came to town and played a Monday game. Robinson stole home again. Joe Hatten shut out the Cubs with a five-hit complete game. The only run the Dodgers turned out to need was provided by a Gil Hodges fly ball in the first. But insurance runs are always important. In the sixth, Robinson led off with a base on balls off Cubs starter Bob Rush. “If there is anything rival moundsmen dread, it is having Jackie on first,” wrote the New York Times’s Effrat. “Rush was no exception. Obviously upset, the right-hander could not prevent Robinson’s steal of second, even with a pitchout. And when [catcher] Mickey Owen’s throw was wild, Jackie continued to third.”26 Burr of the Daily Eagle talked about how the “Ebony Eagle … kept dancing off the bag until Rush just let him go” – at which point Owen’s throw “skidded into center field.”27 The next batter grounded out short to first, but Robinson was unable to run home. With Furillo at the plate, on a 1-and-1 count, Robinson “twice … went dashing down the line toward the plate, and on the third start he kept going.”28 He stole home and made it 2-0, Dodgers. He slid across the plate “unnecessarily as Rush’s throw went over Owen’s – and Robinson’s – head.”29 Brooklyn added a third run in the bottom of the eighth when Robinson tripled in Gene Hermanski.
AUGUST 9, 1949
Carl Erskine held the Phillies to three hits in an 8-1 win for the Dodgers at Shibe Park. Jackie Robinson’s first-inning sacrifice fly brought in the first Dodgers run. Campanella doubled in the second run, in the second inning. After four innings, it was 5-0 and Phillies starter Robin Roberts was gone. In the top of the fifth, Robinson tripled with two outs. Hermanski walked, and then two executed a double steal. “Robinson came in standing up and turned his left ankle slightly” but stayed in the game.30 His steal of home was the first of three runs scored before the inning was done.
AUGUST 14, 1949 – CAUGHT STEALING
Five days later, the Dodgers were back home and hosting the Boston Braves. It was 3-1, Brooklyn, after 4½. Johnny Sain was pitching for the Braves. Robinson singled to right field, then wasted no time in stealing second on the first pitch to Hermanski. The catcher’s throw went astray, so he scampered on to third base. Hermanski hit a foul popup to third base. Hodges was hit by Sain’s pitch. There were runners on first and third. On a 1-and-0 pitch to Billy Cox, Robinson tried to steal home. The throw went 2-4-2 (Del Crandall to Eddie Stanky to Crandall), and Robinson was out at the plate.31 The game ended a 7-2 win for the Dodgers.
SEPTEMBER 20, 1949
Brooklyn was in second place, just 1½ games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. They were playing a Tuesday afternoon game at Wrigley Field. The Dodgers scored three runs in the top of the sixth. In the eighth, with Brooklyn’s Jack Banta working on what became a five-hit shutout, they added two final runs. Bob Muncrief was pitching in relief. With one out, Furillo singled to left and Robinson singled to center, sending Furillo to third. Hodges grounded out, pitcher to first base, while Robinson ran all the way from first to third on the play. On a 1-and-1 count, Robinson stole home. The throw appeared to be a bit off, judging from the photograph in the September 21 New York Times. Catcher Mickey Owen thought he got Robinson, though, and “pushed the umpire [Art Gore] so violently that Gore went down. [Manager Frankie] Frisch joined in the turbulent scene around the plate and he, too, was chased.”32 Gore was off-balance “and it took only a slight body contact to bowl him over.”33 Nonetheless, he went down. Bob Scheffing replaced Mickey Owen as catcher. Robinson’s steal was the final run in the game; the Dodgers won, 5-0. It was, matching his 1948 total, his fifth steal of home on the season. His 37 stolen bases led the majors in 1949, but the 16 times he was caught stealing led the National League.
A NOTE FROM THE 1949 WORLD SERIES
Yankees pitcher Vic Raschi lost Game Two to the Dodgers, 1-0. Robinson doubled, leading off the top of the second. He tagged up and took third on a foul popup. After one more out, Gil Hodges singled to score Robinson with what proved to be the lone run of the game. Raschi attributed a lack of concentration to being distracted by Robinson on third: “I was pitching more to Robinson than I was to Hodges and as a result I threw one up into Gil’s power and he got the base hit that beat me.”34 The Yankees nonetheless won the Series.
JUNE 19, 1950 (1) – CAUGHT STEALING
Robinson scored the first run of the game on Furillo’s second-inning homer. By the end of the second, the Dodgers held a 5-0 lead over the Giants. It was 8-4 after 5½. After Kirby Higbe struck out both Duke Snider and Gene Hermanski, Robinson hit an infield single to the first baseman. Then he tried to steal himself a run. He began by stealing second and taking third on the catcher’s throwing error. Furillo was batting, with a 2-and-1 count, and Robinson broke for home. “He got a good jump and almost made it,” declared the Daily Eagle, “But Kirby Higbe, the pitcher of the moment, got the ball in fast, low and over the plate., in perfect position for Wally [sic] Westrum to make the tag.”35 He was erased at the plate.
JULY 2, 1950
The Phillies hosted a Sunday doubleheader on July 2, the Phils’ Russ Meyer against Ralph Branca in the first game. Hermanski hit a solo homer off Meyer in the first, but the Phillies had scored four runs after their first three innings. In the top of the fourth, Robinson led off with a double. Furillo grounded out, second to first, and Robinson took third. After Campanella lined out to third, he watched Meyer throw three pitches to Gil Hodges, then took off for home on the fourth pitch. He was safe, the second time he’d stolen home off Meyer.36 Though the Dodgers tied it up in the sixth, Bill Nicholson’s two-run homer in the eighth won the game, 6-4. The second game ran for 10 innings and ended in an 8-8 tie due to a Sunday curfew. Robinson stole only 12 bases in 1950, less than a third of the total he had stolen in 1949.
MAY 2, 1951 – CAUGHT STEALING
Pete Castiglione of the Pirates hit the first pitch of the game for a home run off Don Newcombe. The Dodgers went down one-two-three in the first. Murry Dickson was pitching for Pittsburgh. Robinson led off the bottom of the second, beating out a single to third base. With one out, Campanella grounded a single into right field, and Robinson ran first to third. On a 3-and-1 strike to Pee Wee Reese, Robinson tried to steal home on what might have looked like a double steal. Campy, though, was just trying to draw a throw to second, so that Robinson could make it home. Pirates catcher Clyde McCullough fired the ball to second baseman Monty Basgall, who promptly returned the throw, wanting to cut down the run at the plate more than to secure an out at second. His alertness worked and Robinson was out. His hand looks to have been about six inches from reaching the plate when McCullough placed the tag on him.37 Campanella was not credited with a steal of second but advanced there on the throw back to the plate. The Pirates won, 4-3. Had the call been closer, there might have been a ready excuse for a quick ejection of Robinson. At the time, he was not in good graces with the umpiring staff.38
SEPTEMBER 26, 1951
The Dodgers embarrassed the Boston Braves with a 15-5 beatdown at Braves Field, Don Newcombe extending his season mark to 19-9. When it came to the top of the eighth, Robinson had scored twice and his two-run single made the score 12-3, Dodgers. Then Campanella singled off incoming relief pitcher Lew Burdette, putting Brooklyn baserunners on first and third with one out. With Andy Pafko at the plate, Robinson stole home, just barely beating the throw to catcher Ebba St. Claire, who was unable to hold onto the ball. Wayne Terwilliger took Robinson’s place in the field when the Braves came to bat. Braves manager Tommy Holmes didn’t mention Robinson in particular but griped that the Dodgers were trying to rub it in by running up the score. Robinson himself said, “I was playing baseball. I had a chance to steal home and I did. I’ve tried to steal home a couple of other times this year and failed. I may have a new way. Anyway, today, I kept going down and down, and before I knew it, I was home.”39
MAY 18, 1952
Brooklyn trailed 1-0, Preacher Roe pitching against the visiting Cubs, as the Dodgers came up to bat in the bottom of the fourth. A leadoff walk, a single, and Robinson being hit by a pitch loaded the bases with nobody out. Willie Ramsdell walked Pafko, forcing in a run. A Gil Hodges grounder to shortstop resulted in a force out at second, but a run scored and Robinson took third base. Dick Williams grounded out, third to first, Robinson holding at third but Hodges taking second. Rube Walker was walked intentionally. On 3-and-1 pitch to Preacher Roe, Robinson and Hodges pulled off a double steal, while Walker stayed put on first base. A dramatic photograph in the New York Times shows Robinson’s cap flying off as his right foot reaches the plate just under catcher John Pramesa’s glove.40 On the next pitch, Roe singled, boosting the score to 4-1. Walker hit a two-run homer later in the game, and Roe drove in another run. Brooklyn won, 7-2.
JULY 16, 1953 – CAUGHT STEALING
The only year in which Robinson failed to steal home at least once was 1953. He tried it only once; it was the second time he tried to steal against Cliff Chambers. Both times he was unsuccessful. It was Gil Hodges’s first-inning grand slam that deservedly earned all the headlines. The Dodgers held a 7-1 lead after six innings, then saw the Cardinals score once in the top of the seventh. Chambers was the fourth Cardinals pitcher, brought in to pitch the bottom of the seventh inning. He got Reese and Snider for the first two outs, keeping the ball in the infield. Robinson lined a triple to right field. Hodges was hitting, with the count 0-and-1, when Robinson tried in vain to steal the plate. He had stolen second base in the fifth inning, one of five steals the Dodgers made in the course of the game. He was 17-for-21 in stolen base attempts in 1953.
APRIL 23, 1954
In 1954 Robinson attempted only 10 steals all season long. He succeeded seven times. Three of those seven came in this one game. They were his first steals of the year. It was a Friday night game at Forbes Field, Pittsburgh. It was Dodgers 2, Pirates 1 after five innings. The top of the sixth began with a groundout and then a walk to Robinson, followed by two more walks. A popup to the third baseman was the second out. On a 2-and-0 count, all three baserunners stole the base ahead of them, Robinson stealing home on pitcher Bob Friend. In the top of the ninth, it was Dodgers 5, Pirates 4. Robinson singled, then stole second, and then stole third on the very next pitch. No Dodger scored, and the Pirates tied it in the bottom of the ninth. In the top of the 13th, Robinson drove in the decisive run when he doubled in Jim Gilliam. The Pirates were unable to score and thus lost the game. Afterward, Pee Wee Reese marveled, “Look at that Robinson. Tape in his knees, on his feet, on his elbows.” To Robinson, he said, “You’d probably fall apart if it weren’t for that tape.” “‘But I’m playing, Mr. Captain,’ Jackie grinned back. ‘I’m playing.” He added, “Pellagrini came in to hold me on, then he went back. When he did, I got the extra two yards. That’s all I needed.”41
JUNE 17, 1954 – CAUGHT STEALING
Robinson’s only other attempt to steal home in 1954 came against the Milwaukee Braves in Brooklyn on June 17. It came early in the game, in the bottom of the second inning, the Braves up 1-0. He was caught easily, still standing up, by catcher Del Crandall, ending the inning. A photograph in the next day’s New York Times shows the moment.42 Robinson was 4-for-4, every hit an extra-base hit. He later hit two solo home runs and a second double in the game, but the Braves prevailed, 6-4.
AUGUST 28, 1955 – CAUGHT STEALING
It was more than 14 months later before Robinson tried to steal home again. In the bottom of the second of a scoreless game against the visiting Cardinals, he hit an infield single to third base. The Cardinals’ Larry Jackson picked him off first base – but the throw went wild, and Robinson ran all the way to third base. Perhaps feeling he had built up a head of steam, he tried to steal home on the very next pitch, but fell short. The Dodgers won the game, though, 6-1.
AUGUST 29, 1955
The very next day, the same two teams faced off in a Monday afternoon game. The Dodgers led, 2-1, entering the bottom of the sixth. Furillo singled in one run. Sandy Amoros drew a bases-loaded walk to drive in another. Robinson advanced to third base on the walk to Amoros. Reliever Paul LaPalme was brought in, and he might have been close to walking Johnny Podres. On a 3-and-1 count, Robinson stole home, Gil Hodges stole third, and Amoros stole second. Hodges tried to keep coming but was tagged out when the shortstop returned the catcher’s throw. Inning over, but the score was 5-1, Dodgers. They won, 10-4.
SEPTEMBER 28, 1955 – WORLD SERIES
Jackie Robinson stole six bases in World Series play. In his very first Series, in 1947, he stole second base in Game One and also in Game Three. In the 1952 World Series, he stole second base in Game Three and third base in Game Five. He stole third base in Game Six of the 1953 Series. His only other stolen base was in Game One of the 1955 Series, on September 28. He was up against a Hall of Fame battery – Whitey Ford on the Yankee Stadium mound and Yogi Berra behind the plate. Robinson had tripled and scored his first time up, in the second inning. After seven innings, though, the Yankees held a 6-3 lead. (Interestingly, the Yankees’ Billy Martin had been thrown out trying to steal home in the sixth inning.) In the top of the eighth, with one out and a runner on first, Robinson reached on an error, taking second base on the play. A sacrifice fly scored Furillo from third and was deep enough for Robinson to tag up and take third. The score now 6-4, he decided to try to give the Dodgers another run. With pinch-hitter Frank Kellert at the plate, he stole home. Kellert then singled, but that was no means guaranteed, and, besides, a steal of home is tremendously exciting. It was the last run scored in the game and the final score stood Yankees 6, Dodgers 5.
Both Robinson and manager Walter Alston agreed that Robinson had stolen on his own account. “It’s easier to get one run than two,” Robinson said, “and when they give me the run, I’m certainly going to take it. The only ridiculous thing about that play was the Yankees’ squawking about me being called safe. There wasn’t any question about it. I was over the plate before Berra got the ball on me.”43 Berra disagreed, and “protested vehemently.”44 He certainly bumped umpire Bill Summers in the process of protest, but Summers wisely refrained from any reprimand.
The Associated Press quoted Ford: “He didn’t catch me by surprise at all. I had my eye on him from the start. Frankly, I didn’t think he’d try it, with his team two runs behind. But once he started I took my time and threw a low fast one in what I thought was plenty of time. I think we got him.”45 Berra said he had gone out to the mound and warned Ford of the possibility of an attempted steal, with Robinson on third, but “I reminded him Brooklyn was two runs behind and I said I didn’t think Robinson would try to steal home. … Sure, we were surprised. It was a dumb play with his team two runs behind, but it worked and so it was a good one.”46
Plate umpire Summers called Robinson safe. A sequence of photos in the Los Angeles Times gives the impression the ball might have been there in time. “I was safe,” Robinson said. “No doubt in my mind at all. I could see the plate when I slid in. Yogi was back of the plate. I suppose Yogi figured he had me or he wouldn’t have raised such a fuss. In my opinion it wasn’t close. Probably in Yogi’s it was.”47 Berra never changed his mind; there was, of course, no replay in those days, but to the end of his days Berra believed that Robinson had been tagged out. The historical record shows a successful steal of home, but the play could not have been much closer.48
In Game Three, with the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the second, Yankees pitcher Bob Turley got one out, then Robinson singled. He danced around so much on first base faking moves to second and was said to have flustered Turley so much that Turley’s pitch hit Sandy Amoros. Johnny Podres beat out a bunt, loading the bases and advancing Robinson to third. Junior Gilliam was up and took three balls as Robinson kept dancing off third. “The more Robinson danced, the more irritated Turley became. He threw four straight balls to Gilliam, forcing in a run. … A creaking old man [Jackie Robinson] had danced [Yankees manager Casey Stengel’s] pitcher out of the game.”49
APRIL 25, 1956
In the seventh game of the young season, Jackie Robinson stole home for the 19th time. The game was at the Polo Grounds, against the New York Giants. Carl Erskine pitched a 7-2 complete game for the Dodgers. Robinson produced the first run on the game, doubling in the second inning and then moving to third base on a groundout. It was a straight steal of home off pitcher Jim Hearn and catcher Wes Westrum. Once more, a photograph captured the moment of Robinson “up to his old tricks.”50
MAY 13, 1956 – CAUGHT STEALING
In his 20th game of 1956, Robinson tried one more time. Hoyt Wilhelm was pitching for the Giants. The Dodgers had a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning. With one out, Robinson singled. Sandy Amoros doubled. Carl Furillo was intentionally walked, loading the bases. The three tried a triple steal, and two of them succeeded, but the lead man – Robinson – was tagged out at the plate. The New York Times’s photo caption said it had been an attempted squeeze. Two pitches later, Clem Labine struck out. The Dodgers won the game by the 6-4 score.
BILL NOWLIN wishes the Red Sox had signed Jackie Robinson when they could have back in 1945. Born in Boston that very year, he has been a Red Sox fan since he can remember. He has been active with SABR since helping host the Boston convention in 2002 and on the board of directors since 2004. As a volunteer with SABR, he has helped edit several dozen books and over 1,000 research articles.
1 One instance is recounted in Carl Rowan with Jackie Robinson, Wait Till Next Year (New York: Random House, 1960), 40, 41.
2 Arnold Rampersad, Jackie Robinson: A Biography (New York: Ballantine Books, 1997), 42.
3 Rube Samuelsen, Pasadena Post, July 10, 1937. See Rampersad, 44. Carl Rowan writes that Robinson stole 25 bases in 24 games; see also Rowan with Robinson, Wait Till Next Year, 39.
4California Daily Bruin, March 11, 1940. See Rampersad, 74.
5 See “Robinson Can Still Do It All,” New York Post, April 14, 1955.
6 Rowan with Robinson, Wait Till Next Year, 149-150.
7 Rowan with Robinson, Wait Till Next Year, 153-4.
8 “30,000 See Robinson Sparkle in Montreal Debut,” Baltimore Afro-American, April 20, 1946: 29.
9 “Vet, Analyzing Robinson, Asserts Jackie Can’t Miss,” The Sporting News, September 11, 1946: 4. Ty Cobb holds the major-league record for career steals of home, with 54 successful steals (1905-28).
10 Rowan with Robinson, Wait Till Next Year, 163. See also Jackie Robinson, I Never Had It Made (New York: Ecco, 1994), 49.
11 Rowan with Robinson, Wait Till Next Year, 8, 9.
12 United Press, “Dodgers Cop 4-2 Victory from Bucs,” Daily Notes (Canonsburg, Pennsylvania), June 25, 1947: 8.
13 Harold C. Burr, “Speed on Basepaths Gives Dodgers Well-Earned Verdict Over Bucs,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 25, 1947: 15.
14 Roscoe McGowen, “Robinson Steals Home in First with Third Tally Before 35,331 at Pittsburgh,” New York Times, June 25, 1947: 33.
15 Roscoe McGowen, “14 Hits Trip Brooks,” New York Times, July 20, 1947: S1.
17 Roscoe McGowen, “Dodgers Count Four Times in 9th to Overcome Giants; 37 Players in Action,” New York Times, July 5, 1948: 10.
18 Harold C. Burr, “Dodger Flag Chase Sets League Ablaze,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 22, 1948: 17.
19 Roscoe McGowen, “Brooks Turn Back Pirates by 4 to 3,” New York Times, July 24, 1948: 10.
20 Tommy Holmes, “Dodgers Enjoy Fruits of Victory,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 5, 1948: 16. Edward Burns of the Chicago Tribune characterized the Cubs’ reaction as “hysterical protests of [Dascoli’s] decision.” See Edward Burns, “Cubs Lose to Dodgers in 9th, 5 to 4,” Chicago Tribune, August 5, 1948: B3. The New York Times account said the argument lasted 10 minutes. See Louis Effrat, “Dodgers Set Back Cubs by 5 to 4 on Single by Edwards in the Ninth,” New York Times, August 5, 1948: 26.
21 Clif Keane, “Conatser Homer Beats Dodgers, 4-3; Bums Steal 8 Bases, 5 in 5th,” Boston Globe, August 23, 1948: 1.
22 Roscoe McGowen, “Brooks Overcome Flag Winners, 9-8,” New York Times, September 29, 1948: 39.
23 Edward Burns, “Cubs Lose 8-5, in 11th; Boston Beats Sox, 4-3,” Chicago Tribune, May 18, 1949: B1.
24 Harold C. Burr, “Musial Murder Inc. to Dodger Hurlers,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 3, 1949: 16.
25 See the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 17, 1949: 22.
26 Louis Effrat, “Hatten of Dodgers Blanks Cubs Before 25,595,” New York Times, July 19, 1949: 12.
27 Harold C. Burr, “Robinson’s Prancing on Bases Ruins Cubs,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 19, 1949: 13.
28 Burr, “Robinson’s Prancing on Bases Ruins Cubs.”
29 Effrat, “Hatten of Dodgers Blanks Cubs Before 25,595.”
30 Roscoe McGowen, “Erskine of Brooks Scores 8-1 Victory,” New York Times, August 10, 1949: 28.
31 On page 21 of the August 15, 1949, edition of the New York Times, there is a photograph of Robinson being tagged out at the plate.
32 Roscoe McGowen, “Banta Downs Cubs with 5-Hitter, 5-0,” New York Times, August 21, 1949: 42.
34 Donald Honig, Baseball Between the Lines (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1976), 173.
35 Tommy Holmes, “Happy Dodger Days Here Again!” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 20, 1950: 13.
36 On page A3 of the July 3, 1950, Chicago Tribune, one can see a photograph of Robinson sliding in with plenty of room to spare.
37 See photograph on page 37 of the May 3, 1951, New York Times.
38 Harold C. Burr, “Frick, O’Malley Clash on Robby’s Conduct,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 3, 1951: 22.
39 Hy Hurwitz, “Holmes Charges Dodgers ‘Rubbed It In,’” Boston Globe, September 27, 1951: 6. A photograph accompanying the article shows the action.
40 “The Count was 3 and 1, The Bases Were Loaded – And Jackie Stole Home,” New York Times, May 19, 1952: 21.
41 Dave Anderson, “‘Infielder’ Robinson One-Man Hurricane,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 24, 1954: 8. He added that he didn’t try to steal home in the ninth because he couldn’t get as good a jump off left-handed reliever Joe Page.
42 See page 28 with the lead caption, “It Doesn’t Pay to Steal.”
43 Roscoe McGowen, “Brooks Disappointed, Not Discouraged by Defeat and Showing of Newcombe,” New York Times, September 29, 1955: 40.
44 John Drebinger, “Yankees Win First,” New York Times, September 29, 1955: 1.
45 Associated Press, “Jackie Certain He Was Safe at Home,” Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1955: C1.
46 “Berra Takes Blame for Steal,” Boston Globe, September 9, 1955: 14.
48 Summers was in the proper position for the pitch, but not in an ideal one to make a call. Had there been multiple cameras recording the moment, one could not predict an ultimate ruling. See the steal, and some other Game One highlights at: youtube.com/watch?v=k4EUXTbbsAg.
50 The photograph accompanies John Drebinger’s article on page 40 of the April 26, 1956, New York Times.
https://sabr.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/research-collection4_350x300.jpg300350sabr/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/sabr_logo.pngsabr2021-12-21 13:59:262021-12-21 13:59:26Jackie Robinson’s Steals of Home