Gutierrez: Honoring New York state’s black baseball legacy

From Matthew Gutierrez at The Daily Orange on April 14, 2018, with mention of SABR member Larry Lester:

Jackie Robinson faced near-constant racial abuse after entering the minor leagues as the first black player. During part of his minor league stint, in 1946, he played for the Montreal Royals against the Syracuse Chiefs. Many teams canceled games to prevent him from playing. Syracuse did not. Instead, National Baseball Hall of Fame records indicate, a player in Syracuse once threw a black cat on the field and shouted, “Hey Jackie, there’s your cousin.” Robinson hit a double and scored, then responded: “I guess my cousin’s pretty happy now.”

“Syracuse rode me harder than any other city in the circuit,” Robinson wrote in his 1948 autobiography, “My Own Story.” “They were tough on me both on the field and in the stands.”

April 15, 1947 is the day Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. His rise to baseball stardom — and as a key figure in the civil rights movement, even inspiring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — ran through Southern California then UCLA, the Negro Leagues, and a few trips to Syracuse. All before he became the first black man to play in MLB, with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Jackie Robinson Day, an annual MLB tradition celebrated on April 15, offers a reminder that Upstate New York has a rich history involving black baseball. There was a Negro Leagues team in Albany and exhibition games in Syracuse from the Civil War era through the mid-20th century. The effect of black baseball on integration and economy in central New York is unclear, but this much is: The game was central to black people living in the Syracuse era.

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Originally published: April 16, 2018. Last Updated: April 16, 2018.