Jaffe: Jackie Robinson and the integration advantage

From SABR member Jay Jaffe at FanGraphs on April 17, 2018:

Sunday was Jackie Robinson Day around the majors, commemorating the anniversary — the 71st, this year — of the fall of baseball’s color line via Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. But just as Robinson’s immeasurable courage in confronting racism and the immense talent he showed while playing at the highest level deserve more than a single day for paying tribute, so too is it worth remembering the black players who bravely followed in his footsteps and ensured that baseball’s great experiment would not be a one-off. In the two decades following Robinson’s arrival, the influx of talent, first from the Negro Leagues and then the sandlots and high schools whose players previously could not have dreamt of such an opportunity, radically transformed the National League, in particular.

Led by president and general manager Branch Rickey, the Dodgers, of course, got the jump. During Robinson’s major-league career, which lasted from 1947 to 1956, the Dodgers won six pennants as well as their lone Brooklyn-era championship in 1955. In addition to becoming a pioneer of tremendous importance, Jackie himself was the game’s third-most valuable player over that span according to WAR (57.2), behind only Stan Musial and Ted Williams. While the Dodgers had a great supporting cast of white players such as Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, and Duke Snider, those teams also got great work from two Negro Leagues graduates whom Rickey had signed before Robinson even reached the majors — namely Roy Campanella, who debuted in 1948 and went on to win three NL MVP awards, and Don Newcombe, who debuted in 1949, won Rookie of the Year honors that season, and would later win a Cy Young and an MVP award.


In addition to their 10 pennants during the 1947-66 span, the Dodgers narrowly missed three more, one on the final day of the 1950 regular season (they lost to the “Whiz Kid” Philadelphia Phillies, whom they could have tied with a victory) and two more to the New York Giants in best-of-three playoffs, not only in 1951 but also in 1962. While a pair of American League teams, the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns, both integrated before the 1947 season was over, it would take until 1949 for the next NL team (the Giants) to do so, with the Boston Braves following a year later — with yet another player the Rickey-era Dodgers had signed, outfielder Sam Jethroe. The Giants, who would pluck Mays out of the Negro Leagues in June 1950, and Braves, who would do likewise with Hank Aaron in June 1952, would become the only other NL teams to win multiple pennants during that two-decade span, while the rest of the Senior Circuit was largely left in the dust

Read the full article here: https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/jackie-robinson-and-the-integration-advantage/

Originally published: April 17, 2018. Last Updated: April 17, 2018.