“Do you feel they’ll make the big-league grade?” This question (referring to Black ballplayers) was posed to Bob Feller in October 1946. As reported in The Sporting News on October 30, 1946, Feller said without hesitation, “I have seen none who combine the qualities of a big-league ballplayer – not even Jackie Robinson.”1
Induction Day at Cooperstown in 1962 saw two new inductees voted in by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Jackie Robinson and Feller had each finished their playing careers in 1956 and their paths first crossed after the 1946 season.
In the autumn of 1946, after leading the Montreal Royals of the International League to a win in the Junior World Series, which concluded on October 4, Robinson was showcased in a barnstorming tour, which started with six games in the Midwest and concluded with several games in California. The tour was coordinated by Mickey McConnell, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ director of promotions. The Dodgers organization was eager to let America meet the first Black player to enter Organized Baseball in the twentieth century. The “Robinson All-Stars” included several players from the Dodgers organization as well as players from the Negro Leagues.
That same autumn, Feller also put together a tour that was deemed to be the best organized and financed and most successful tour of its kind. Indeed, Feller’s take from the barnstorming trip eclipsed his annual salary with the Indians. After facing Satchel Paige’s Negro League All-Stars in the early part of his tour and Robinson’s team in four games in California, Feller made the prediction that was, within a very short time, negated by Robinson and other great Black ballplayers, including several members of his 1946 barnstorming squad.
Robinson’s tour was slated to begin at the Polo Grounds on October 1, but when the Royals played into October, there were cancellations and schedule changes. Plagued by poor promotion, a lack of big-name players, the late start, and poor weather, the Robinson tour did not enjoy great success. Several barnstorming tours crisscrossed the United States in the autumn of 1946. Tours led by Feller and Satchel Paige garnered the most media coverage and had the most success.
A revised schedule had Robinson’s tour beginning in Detroit on October 5, and Jackie flew to Detroit after the Junior World Series ended. There is no evidence that the game scheduled for Detroit ever took place.
On October 6, two days after the Royals won the JWS, the Robinson All-Stars opened their tour at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, losing to the “Major League All-Stars,” managed by Honus Wagner, 10-4. Robinson’s team, which included three White ballplayers, was one of the first integrated professional squads ever to take the field at a big-league park. Bob Malloy of Cincinnati and Stan Ferens of the St. Louis Browns pitched for the winning team. A full accounting of the game is not available.
The next day, the tour stopped at Youngstown, Ohio. The Robinson team lost 6-5 to the Major League All-Stars. Robinson went 4-for-5 with a homer. Marv Rackley also homered for the Robinson All-Stars. Rackley, one of the White players on the team and a teammate of Robinson’s at Montreal (the two combined for 105 stolen bases), had signed with Brooklyn prior to the 1941 season. After spending two seasons in the low minors, Rackley entered the US Army Air Force for the duration of World War II. In 1946 with Montreal, the speedster led the International League with triples (14) and stolen bases (65). He played in parts of four major-league seasons, appeared in 185 games, and batted .317.
Wagner’s team included Hank Sauer. Sauer was, at the time, relatively unknown. He had played in only 47 major-league games over a three-year span. Fans of the International League were aware of him. He had hit 21 homers with 90 RBIs in 1946. The following year, in his eighth minor-league season, his 50 homers for Syracuse punched his ticket to the big leagues. In 15 major-league seasons, he hit 288 homers. In 1952 he was selected the National League MVP after hitting 37 homers with 121 RBIs for the Cubs.
Sauer’s two run homer put Wagner’s team ahead 2-0 in the second inning, and Eddie Miller extended the lead to 5-0 with a three-run blast in the fifth inning. With two out in the seventh inning, Robinson’s squad rallied to tie the game on the back-to-back homers by Robinson and Rackley. Wagner’s squad pushed across the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on a single by Pittsburgh’s Lee Handley.2
On October 8 the caravan arrived at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field for a 4 P.M. contest. A glimpse of a scorecard from the game shows the players on the teams, along with some changes.3 Some of Robinson’s teammates in the 6-4 win are well known to this day. Others, however, have seen time pass them by.
Robinson played shortstop, because the team’s regular shortstop, Al Campanis, was injured. Robinson had three hits, scored two runs, and stole a base. The White players who played for the Robinson All-Stars at Pittsburgh were outfielder Rackley and relief pitcher Richard Mlady.
The starting pitcher for the Robinson squad, Willie Pope, had spent the season with the Pittsburgh Crawfords. He played in Organized Baseball from 1950 through 1955, but never advanced beyond Triple A.
Pope was relieved during a four-run fifth-inning rally by Mlady, who had been in the Dodgers organization since 1940. Mlady never made it to the majors, posting a 40-44 record in six minor-league seasons. In 1946 he had been with Nashua of the Class-B New England League, teaming with two players who were on the Robinson All-Stars and would go on to great success with Brooklyn.
The first of the Nashua players was catcher Roy Campanella. The Dodgers signed him in 1946 and he spent the season at Nashua, batting .290 in 113 games. He arrived in Brooklyn in 1948. The other Nashua player was pitcher Don Newcombe, who was on the caravan but did not pitch at Forbes Field.
At first base for Robinson’s squad was Lennie Pearson of the Negro League champion Newark Eagles. He was 28 years old, but by the time he was noticed by Organized Baseball in 1950, he was already 32. Pearson was signed by the Braves and played at Milwaukee in the Triple-A American Association in 1950, batting .305. The following season, the Braves promoted George Crowe. Pearson was sent down to the Hartford Chiefs of the Class-A Eastern League. He batted .272 in his last season in the Braves organization.
Robinson’s second baseman was Larry Doby, who also had spent 1946 with the Eagles, for whom he had begun his professional career in 1942. During the 1947 season, the Cleveland Indians acquired him from Newark, and Doby went on to a Hall of Fame career. He was the first Black player signed by a team other than the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Robinson’s third baseman was Herb Souell of the Kansas City Monarchs. He was 33 years old. By the time Organized Baseball signed him, he was 39 years old. He played only one minor-league season, 1952.
Robinson’s outfielders included Rackley, Monte Irvin, and John Scott. Irvin was destined to be a star in the majors as he had been in the Negro Leagues. In 1946 he had played with the Newark Eagles, and remained with them through 1948. In 1949, at age 30, he was acquired by the New York Giants and was with them for seven seasons. In 1951 he led the National League in RBIs with 121 and finished third in MVP balloting. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973. Scott, a member of the Monarchs and a 1945 teammate of Robinson’s, never played in Organized Baseball, finishing up his Negro League career at Kansas City in 1948.
Most of the members of the “major-league all-stars” had done little to distinguish themselves. Only a couple are remembered to this day. Al Gionfriddo started in center field. He is remembered for his catch of a long fly ball by Joe DiMaggio in the 1947 World Series. Sauer was stationed in left field, and Eddie Lukon of Cincinnati started the game in right. Batting second for the majors was Frankie Gustine, who spent the first 10 of his 12 major-league seasons with Pittsburgh. Lukon batted third, and the cleanup batter was Sauer.
Batting fifth was shortstop Pete Suder, who spent his entire 13-year major-league career with the Athletics, first in Philadelphia, then in Kansas City. In 1946 he had batted .281 in 128 games. Next up was first baseman Eddie Miller, who had homered at Youngstown. Miller was a shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds. Lee Handley, who had driven in the winning run at Youngstown, was at third base. He spent eight of his 10 major-league seasons with Pittsburgh and after his playing days stayed active, along with Gustine, in youth baseball in the Pittsburgh area.
The catcher was George Susce, who had been a backup retriever for eight seasons, playing his last major-league game in 1944. In 1946 he had been a coach with the Indians. The pitcher on October 8 was Joe Beggs, who was tagged with the loss, going the route and allowing 10 hits. Beggs, who pitched in the majors for nine seasons, was coming off a 12-10 season with Cincinnati.
Robinson’s team drew first blood, scoring three runs on four hits in the third inning. With one out, Scott and Pope singled. A double by Rackley brought Scott home. Robinson singled Pope home and Rackley scored on an infield error.
Pope, who had allowed only a second-inning single to Suder and a fourth-inning double to Lukon, was victimized by a wild streak in the fifth when Wagner’s team scored four runs on only two hits. Handley walked to lead off the inning and Susce singled. Beggs struck out and Gionfriddo was hit by a pitch, loading the bases. He left the game for a pinch-runner. Gustine walked, forcing in Handley, and Lukon singled in a pair of runs. After Sauer walked to load the bases again, Suder hit into a force play that scored Gustine with his team’s final run.
Robinson’s team tied the game in the sixth. Doby led off with a triple and came home on a two-out single by Pearson. Robinson ignited a game-winning two-run rally in the eighth inning. He doubled and, after Irvin was walked, Pearson’s triple cleared the bases. After Souell was hit by a pitch, Pearson was picked off third base, ending the inning. Mlady limited Wagner’s team to two hits over the last two innings to get credit for the win.
On October 11 Cleveland welcomed the barnstormers, but the game was rained out and rescheduled for Monday, October 14. The rain continued and the next day’s game at Dayton was canceled.
On October 13 the Robinson entourage was at Chicago’s Comiskey Park and defeated the Wagner All-Stars 10-5. By this time, Robinson had added another White player to his troupe. Mike Nozinski, who had played for Nashua with Campanella and Newcombe, augmented the pitching staff. Nozinski played 10 games at the Double-A level in 1947, but that was as high as he got.
The starting pitcher for Robinson’s squad was onetime Montreal teammate Johnny Wright, who had originally pitched in the Negro Leagues with Newark in 1937 and had been with the Homestead Grays at the time he was signed by the Dodgers. Wright pitched the first five innings and left the game with a big lead.
Jackie’s team went out in front in the first inning. With two out, Robinson walked and scored from first on a double by Irvin. Wright singled in the third inning, moved to second on an error, and scored on a single by Robinson. A double by Campanella ignited a two-run rally in the fourth inning that drove starting pitcher Stan Ferens from the mound. A three-run sixth for the Robinson team was topped off when Jackie executed a perfect suicide squeeze play, bunting Rackley home from third. Jackie’s team took a 7-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth.
Wagner’s team narrowed the gap to 7-4 with three runs in the bottom half of the inning. Ross “Satchel” Davis replaced Wright on the mound. The once and future Cleveland Buckeyes hurler walked two batters and was replaced by Nozinski, who, after filling the bases and allowing the three runners to score, calmed down and finished the game for the winners.
Robinson’s squad extended its lead in the late innings. In the eighth, off reliever Bob Malloy, Robinson tripled down the right-field line, scoring Johnny Scott. Jackie scored on a fly ball by Doby. In the ninth, Dave Pope tripled home Joe Atkins but was thwarted in his attempt for an inside-the-park homer when Gionfriddo’s throw was relayed by Handley and Susce applied the tag. Wagner’s team scored a run in the last inning, as an errant throw to first by Nozinski allowed a runner to score from third.4
The teams played at Cleveland Stadium the next day and Robinson’s team won 8-0. The hitting star was Irvin with a single, a double, and a triple. Jackie’s team broke the game open with a five-run second inning. Atkins, who had spent the 1946 season with the Pittsburgh Crawfords, belted a sixth-inning inside-the-park-homer. At age 32 in 1954, he got to play Triple-A ball with Ottawa in the International League, but he never made it to the majors. The pitching chores were handled by Mlady, who went the first five innings, and Negro League veteran Alonzo Boone, who finished up. Between them, they allowed only two hits.5 Boone first played professionally in 1929 for Memphis in the Negro National League. In 1946 he was with the Cleveland Buckeyes. He returned to the Buckeyes for his final competitive season in 1947.
On Tuesday, October 15, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Robinson’s team faced the Omaha Firemen at Legion Park. There was a chill in the air and attendance was only 469. In the top of the eighth, Robinson’s team took a 7-5 lead when Atkins tripled in two runs. However, when he tried to make it an inside-the-park-homer, he was thrown out at the plate. Omaha’s Jim “Westy” Basso retrieved the ball and threw it home by way of shortstop Frank Mancuso. Basso, who hailed from Omaha, played 13 minor-league seasons, but never got higher than Triple A. Mancuso, who also stole home in the game, played for the St. Louis Browns from 1944 through 1946 and finished up his career with Washington the following season. The smallish crowd saw the Firemen win 8-7 when they scored three runs in the ninth inning.6
At San Francisco’s Seals Stadium on October 18, 9,813 fans watched the first matchup of the Robinson All-Stars and the Bob Feller All-Stars. Before the game, there was a home-run hitting contest featuring Stan Musial, Mickey Vernon, Charlie Keller, Sam Chapman, and Jeff Heath. Feller’s team won the game, 6-0. Robinson got a hit and stole a base off the Cleveland fireballer, but his infield single, which bounced over Feller, was one of only two hits given up by the pitcher in five innings. Dutch Leonard and Spud Chandler completed the pitching chores for Feller’s squad. Their offense was led by Heath, who tripled and homered. Musial had a pair of hits and scored two runs.7
On October 20, it was on to Oakland for Robinson’s squad. They took on the Sherry Liquor team, which included several big-league players, including Bill Rigney of the Giants. The teams played to an 8-8 tie in a game halted by darkness after 10 innings.
On October 23, at Bakersfield, there was a miscommunication as barnstorming teams led by both Satchel Paige and Robinson appeared to face Feller’s squad with 3,500 fans looking on. After a settlement was reached, Jackie looked on as teams led by Feller and Paige played. Feller’s team won.8 The following afternoon, at El Centro, 114 miles east of San Diego, Feller’s team beat the Robinson All-Stars in front of 1,800 spectators.9
On the evening of October 24 at San Diego’s Lane Field, with 4,414 fans looking on, Feller pitched five innings, striking out 11, as his team won 4-2. In the fourth inning, Robinson walked and scored the game’s first run, flying home on a short double by Souell. Feller’s team quickly tied the game when Chapman singled home Ken Keltner. When Feller left the game, his team trailed 2-1, after to a go-ahead homer by the Robinson squad’s Earl “Mickey” Taborn. Taborn, who had spent the 1946 season with the Monarchs, signed with the New York Yankees and was with their Triple-A Newark affiliate in 1949. It was his only year in Organized Baseball, but he continued to play and was in the Mexican League from 1951 through 1961.
Feller’s squad rallied for three eighth-inning runs to win the game. Musial led off with a single and Keller’s long double put runners on second and third. Keltner singled in the runners. He advanced to second on a single by Heath and came around to score his team’s final run on a single by shortstop Bob Lemon. Chandler, who entered the game in the sixth inning, was the winning pitcher.10
The following night, Feller took the mound again and was again outstanding at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. He pitched five perfect innings, striking out 10, as his team won, 4-3. During the seventh and eighth innings of the game, Robinson took issue with the ball-strike calls by home-plate umpire Gordon Ford. The temper displayed by Robinson was in stark contrast to the unusual restraint he showed during his first years in the Dodgers organization.
The Oakland Larks of the West Coast Association, a Negro minor league, hosted the Robinson All-Stars on October 31, the Robinson All-Stars winning 13-7. The key blow was a three-run homer by Souell. On November 3 in San Bernardino, the Larks won, 8-5. Robinson went 3-for-4 with a double.
While he was in Southern California, Robinson began practicing with the Los Angeles Red Devils, a minor-league basketball team. He was a force on the hardwood and scored 18 points in a 39-38 win over Sheboygan on November 9.11 The team played into January, and Robinson’s teammates included two future major-league baseball players – Irv Noren and George Crowe. Robinson’s last game with the team was on January 3.
Robinson and Doby advanced to the majors in 1947. They were joined in subsequent years by Campanella, Newcombe, and Irvin. The Negro Leagues would diminish in size after 1948 and although Robinson led successful barnstorming trips in the early years of his major-league career, the advent of television and the westward migration of franchises would make barnstorming by big leaguers vanish. The four remaining Negro League teams played the last Negro League East-West All-Star Game on August 26, 1962. After the 1962 season, the final big-league barnstorming tour, led by Willie Mays, visited five small towns.
ALAN COHEN has been a SABR member since 2010. He serves as vice president-treasurer of the Connecticut Smoky Joe Wood Chapter, is datacaster (MiLB First Pitch stringer) for the Hartford Yard Goats, the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, and has been serving as head of SABR’s fact-checking committee since 2020. His biographies, game stories, and essays have appeared in more than 50 SABR publications. Since his first Baseball Research Journal article appeared in 2013, Alan has continued to expand his research into the Hearst Sandlot Classic (1946-1965) from which 88 players advanced to the major leagues. He has four children and eight grandchildren and resides in Connecticut with his wife, Frances, their cats, Morty, Ava, and Zoe, and their dog, Buddy.
“Robinson’s Stars Split in Openers,” The Sporting News, October 16, 1946: 23.
“Robinson Stars as Team Wins,” Pittsburgh Press, October 9, 1946: 26.
“Robinson Stars Triumph, 6-4,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, October 9, 1946: 25.
“West Coast Baseball Fans Pay Tribute to Jackie Robinson: Durocher Roots for Jackie’s Team in Tilt Against Feller’s,” Pittsburgh Courier (National Edition), November 2, 1946: 16.
Abrams, Al. “Robinson Impresses Big League Players: Cracks Out Three Hits as His Team Defeats Major League Stars, 6-4,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 9, 1946: 15.
Adams, Caswell. “Feller Earns $175,000 to Crack Ruth’s Record,” Evening World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), November 8, 1946: 27.
Barthel, Thomas. Baseball Barnstorming and Exhibition Games – 1901-1962: A History of Off-Season Major League Play (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Publishers, 2007).
Bojens, Ken. “Off the Main Line,” San Diego Union, October 24, 1946: A-16.
Old, John B. “Jackie’s Blasts at Umpire Mar Game in Los Angeles,” The Sporting News, November 6, 1946: 2.
Stann, Francis E., “Win, Lose, or Draw,” Washington Evening Star, November 7, 1946: C-1.
Young, Fay. “Through the Years,” Chicago Defender, October 19, 1946: 11.
1 Steve George, “250,000 See Feller-Paige Teams Play,” The Sporting News, October 30, 1946: 9.
2 “Wagner’s All-Stars Beat Robbie’s, 6-5,” Chicago Times, October 8, 1946: 48.
3 On August 23, 2010, PBS aired an episode of the History Detectives. During a segment of the broadcast, a scorecard from the October 8, 1946, game in Pittsburgh was shown. Articles from contemporary issues of the Pittsburgh Courier (local edition) and the Chicago Defender also were shown. The article by Fay Young in the Chicago Defender is listed in the sources. The article from the Pittsburgh Courier is shown in Note 4. The scorecard was completed and presents the most complete record of what transpired on October 8, 1946.
4 “Jackie Robinson’s Team Beats Major leaguers, 10-5,” Chicago Defender, October 19, 1946: 16.
5 “Robinson All-Stars Bag 8-0 Decision,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 15, 1946: 16; “Robinson’s All-Stars Blank Dressen’s, 8-0,” Cleveland Call and Post, October 19, 1946: 9B; “Robinson’s All-Stars Win 3 Out of 5 Games,” Pittsburgh Courier (Local Edition), October 19, 1946: 24.
6 “Omahans Rally in Last Frame,” Council Bluffs (Iowa) Nonpareil, October 16, 1946: 8; Maurice Shadle, “Omaha’s Stars Win in Ninth, 8-7,” Morning World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), October 16, 1948: 13.
7 “Feller Shuts Out Robinson’s Stars,” San Francisco Examiner, October 19, 1946: 15.
8 “Jackie Robinson Here for Contest; Could Not Compete,” Bakersfield Californian, October 25, 1946: 15.
9 “Feller in One-Day Hops in Coast Cities,” The Sporting News, October 30, 1946: 10.
10 “Feller Whiffs 11 in 4-2 Win: Major Leaguers Triumph Behind Four-Hit Pitching,” San Diego Union, October 25, 1946: B-4.
11 “Red Devils Nab Cage Tilt,” Los Angeles Times, November 10, 1946: II-7; J. Cullen Fentress, “Jackie Robinson Scores 18 Points as L.A. Tops Sheboygan,” Pittsburgh Courier (National Edition), November 16, 1946: 13.
https://sabr.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/research-collection4_350x300.jpg300350sabr/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/sabr_logo.pngsabr2022-01-04 14:52:232022-01-04 14:52:23The Jackie Robinson Barnstorming Tour of 1946