April 17, 2020
Although, Jackie Robinson’s debut on April 15, 1947 didn’t go as planned, hitless in three at bats, his presence on the diamond would soon be a season long appreciation by baseball fans of the man’s talents, skills and acumen that had not been seen before simply because of ignorance and bigotry.
Jackie Robinson earned his first two hits off these major league pitchers. Robinson’s first was a nondescript bunt single off Boston Braves hurler Glen Elliot and his second was his first career homerun off New York Giants hurler Dave Koslo in the third inning of the third game of the 1947 season.
Robinson’s first year in the blue wool uniform of the Dodgers was successful and he dispelled any myths, lies or distortions that blacks couldn’t play at the same level as whites. Robinson’s numbers were good enough to earn him Rookie of the Year and lead Brooklyn to the pennant.
The real stupidity and ignorance was that the other 15 franchises didn’t do it sooner and realize that a superstar African-American ballplayer in the starting lineup gives your team a better chance of winning than a mediocre white player scratching his bottom, collecting splinters on the bench in the dugout.
The Dodgers used other team’s blatant racist attitudes to their advantage by signing other black stars from the Negro League winning pennants in 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956 and 1959. Don Newcombe was integral to the pitching staff with 123 victories and catcher Roy Campanella collected three MVP awards while manning the catching duties. The Dodgers streak of winning was unprecedented in their franchise’s history and in 1955 they finally broke through winning their first World Series.
The years the Dodgers in Brooklyn and LA didn’t win were won by teams that saw the light and signed other black stars or “people of color”. The 1951 and 1954 NY Giants had Monte Irvin, Hank Thompson and Willie Mays. In fact, the 1954 team ended a more than two decade drought for the Giants not winning the Series with their last in 1933 when they bested the Washington Senators.
The Braves inked Hank Aaron, Felix Mantilla and Bill Bruton and won two pennants in 1957 and 1958. It took more than forty years and a shift to Milwaukee for the Braves to claim the World Series trophy besting the Yankees in seven games in 1957.
In the American League the Yankees, of course, were the dominant force, winning all those years except 1948, 1954 and 1959 when the Indians and the White Sox got their turns . The Indians became the first American League team to employ an African-American player with Larry Doby manning one of the outfield spots and while Satchel Paige was hired to be a stable force on the mound.
Interestingly, Cleveland , the vanguard franchise in the junior league, turned their foresight into a championship winning the World Series in 1948 , their first since 1920.
The White Sox signed Minnie Minoso in 1951 and won the AL pennant in 1959 , something they had not done since the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.
The Yankees, the powerhouse of the American League, took a few years to sign an African-American player, Elston Howard ,who would be a key player for New York through the early sixties. The Yankees with Howard in the lineup went to nine World Series in his first 10 seasons. Howard was named to nine All Star Games and was awarded the MVP in 1963.
The only club to win a pennant without a black player in the lineup was the 1950 Philadelphia Philies nicknamed the “Whiz Kids” for the number of young, talented potential stars that filled their lineup. They were swept by all too “colorless” Yankees.
But they wouldn’t sniff a pennant for another thirty years but they would win the pennant and their first ever World Series with players like Manny Trillo, Bake McBride and Gary Maddox manning the infield and outfield.
What 1947 proved was that if you didn’t get on board you missed out on a chance to change your franchise’s fortunes for the good. And for some clubs their losing histories could have been turnaround for the better.
Consider that the Phillies 1950 had chances to add to a core group of solid players like Stan Lopata, Curt Simmons and Hall of Famers Richie Ashburn, and Robin Roberts but did nothing until 1957 when John Kennedy made his debut in a Phillies uniform.
The Boston Red Sox were the last in their leagues to integrate and it hurt them during the Ted Williams era. Boston won its last pennant in 1946 losing a dramatic seven game series to the St. Louis Cardinals and played another 21 seasons before they won another.
Interestingly, the Red Sox traded for a backup catcher for his experience , give sage advice to a young pitching staff and provide a championship presence in the clubhouse. His name- Elston Howard.
The St Louis Cardinals were riding along the same rail as Boston. Like the Sox, there last World Series was 1946 and they did not win a pennant during Stan Musial’s prime years. This didn’t sit well with the new owner of the Redbirds. Gussie Busch who purchased the Cardinals believed that it was morally wrong to prevent blacks from playing in the majors and pushed to sign an African-American. They signed Tom Alston who was past his prime but was the catalyst for St. Louis to sign other black players.
It was fruitful too as St. Louis in just seven years would win the pennant and the World Series in 1964 with players like Curt Flood, Bob Gibson, Bill White and Lou Brock acquired in a trade with the Cubs. Brock was traded by Chicago for pitcher Ernie Broglio who only lasted another couple of seasons.
Brock went on to establish a number of stolen bases records and be one of the most clutch players in World Series history. Brock and Gibson future Hall of Famers would lead the Redbirds to titles in 1967 and 68.
Ironically, St. Louis finally notched an NL pennant and World Series title in 1964 the after Musial retired from the game.