Category Archives: Jackie Robinson

Remembering Jackie Robinson

Despite the current lukewarm attitude about baseball of African-Americans, April 15 is still an important date in not only baseball history, but also African-American history.

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American since before the turn of the century to play Major League baseball. Wearing Number 42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson played first base and batted second in the team’s home opener at Ebbet’s Field against the Boston Braves. In three at bats, he reached base on an error and scored a run in the Dodgers’ 5 – 3 win.

robinson standing

To celebrate the day of Robinson’s debut, April 15 is designated by Major League Baseball; “Jackie Robinson Day”. All Major League players will wear number “42”, Jackie’s number, on their uniforms during games today and other activities will also be held at Major League ballparks to honor him.

robinson-day

Growing up in a home where my father and two older brothers were baseball fans, I was made aware at an early age of Jackie Robinson. However; his mark in history, both African-American and Twentieth Century American, continues to grow in significance sixty-nine years after that Brooklyn spring day in 1947.  A mark that he made through his excellence on the baseball diamond whose impact goes well beyond the sport itself.

Robinson hit .297 in 1947 and led the National League in stolen bases. Although many sportswriters doubted he would be successful, the National Sportswriters Association named him 1947 National League Rookie of the Year.  In 1949, he led the National League in hitting (.342), stolen bases, and drove in 124 runs.  For his efforts Robinson won the National League Most Valuable Player Award.  He hit over .300 six in his 10 Major League seasons, and over .290 two others.  A six-time National League All-Star, Robinson helped the Dodgers win six National League pennants (finishing second four times) and one World Series championship (1955).

But I missed his playing career!   When I made my entrance into the world in August 1951, Robinson and the Dodgers were in the process of blowing a 14 1/2 lead against the second place New York Giants to lose the National League pennant.  There was no ESPN, CNN Sports, Fox Sports Net, or MLB Network in the 1950s.  I am sure Jackie would have made the ESPN Top Ten Plays of the Day highlights numerous times.  He retired after the 1956 season as I was in the kindergarten class of Miss Williams at Kealing Elementary.  That is why I love seeing the black and white films showing him in action like in the documentary showed last week on PBS; “Jackie Robinson:  A Film by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMaHon”.  The daring way he ran the bases, especially stealing home, is still exciting today.

robinson running

Truthfully Jackie Robinson was not the best player in Negro League baseball when Dodger Vice-President and General Manager Branch Rickey signed him in 1945. But he was named the 1946 International League’s Most Valuable Player while with the Dodgers top minor league team in Montreal.   Bob Feller, the star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians said Robinson would never be good enough as a hitter to make it in the Major Leagues.  How ironic was it that they were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame together in 1962.  Jackie Robinson accepted the hopes and expectations for success of his race as he faced the expectations and predictions of his failure from those opposed to him.  Despite this pressure from all sides, he proved his skeptics wrong and opened the door for other African-American and dark-skinned Latino ball players to play Major League baseball.  Jackie Robinson was an extra-ordinary man God equipped for a super extra-ordinary task!

jr-3

To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown

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Jackie Robinson’s 1942 Mystery Tryout

On March 18 or 19, 1942 two African-Americans appeared at the Chicago White Sox training camp in Pasadena, California requesting an opportunity to win a spot on the team’s roster.  The White Sox had a 77 – 77 record in 1941, finishing in 3rd place, 31 games behind the pennant winning New York Yankees.   At that time, Major League baseball’s “invisible color line” existed; there were no African-American or dark-skinned Latino players on any Major League club.  However, Jackie Robinson and Nate Moreland approached White Sox Manager Jimmy Dykes on that day asking for a tryout.

robinson standing

Jackie Robinson

Robinson and Moreland were from the same neighborhood in Pasadena, they played baseball together on their high school team.  They both attended Pasadena Junior College and played on the same semi-pro baseball team.  Robinson had returned from playing semi-professional football in Hawaii in December of 1941.  Moreland, a left-handed pitcher, had played with the Baltimore Elite Giants (1940) and in the Mexican League.

More1

Nate Moreland

Dykes gave them a workout that day, but nothing came of it.  Although the manager expressed he saw their potential, especially Robinson’s, he indicated his hands were tied.  The Major League team owners and Baseball Commissioner Landis were the ones to make the decision to allow them to play.  Shortly after the tryout, Jackie Robinson received his draft notice and went into the military.  Five years later, April 15, 1947; he broke through the color line and became the first African-American to play Major League baseball in the 20th Century.  Moreland continued in baseball pitching for the Elite Giants (1946), the Mexican League, and the lower minor leagues in the southwest (California, Arizona) until retiring after the 1957 season.

There were questions as to whether this tryout occurred, a cloud of mystery around it.  Jackie Robinson did not mention it, nor is it in his early biographies.  There were no mentions of it in mainstream media outlets or the black newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier or Chicago Defender.   The only newspaper to have a story about it was the Daily Worker, the newspaper of the American Communist Party.

However, in recent years the tryout has been confirmed.  It is in Jackie Robinson:  A Biography by Arnold Rampersad, the latest Jackie Robinson biography.  Also, relatives of Nate Moreland indicate his mentioning of it.  There was a rumor Robinson and Moreland were sent to approach the White Sox for the tryout by The Daily Worker; the only newspaper to have a reporter to cover it and one that aggressively criticized Major League baseball’s racial discrimination.  However, there is no proof of its involvement other than covering the tryout.  Jimmy Dykes’ actions were another example of a Major League manager during that time helping to maintain baseball’s color line ahead of trying to make the needed improvements to his team.

To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Baseball, and Jackie Robinson

mlk-1              jr-3

Today is the national celebration for the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., what would have been his 88th.  Much will be written giving tributes to his life and the impact his legacy continues to have not only on this country, but also the world.  However, I want to mention what appears to have been Dr. King’s favorite sport, baseball.

When Jackie Robinson crossed the “invisible color line” in 1947 to be the first African-American to play Major League baseball in the 20th Century, he became the idol of an 18-year-old teenager in Atlanta, Georgia; Martin King Jr.  Like many other African-Americans at that time, whether baseball fans or not, the Brooklyn Dodgers were the young King’s favorite baseball team because of Jackie Robinson.  Many of those African-American Dodger fans, including King, remained loyal to the team after Robinson retired and it relocated to Los Angeles in 1958.  In addressing the 1966 Milwaukee Braves’ move to his hometown of Atlanta, Dr. King indicated it would complicate his personal allegiance that had existed since 1947.  “And so I have been a Dodger fan”, he said, “but I’m gonna get with the Braves now”.*

But Dr. King had been more than a fan of the Dodgers; he understood the significance for African-Americans of what Jackie Robinson had done in 1947. After becoming a leader in the Civil Rights movement, Dr. King knew where his idol as a teenager’s accomplishments fit overall in reference to that movement.

When Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on that Montgomery, Alabama city bus in December of 1955 triggering the Civil Rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s, Jackie Robinson was nearing the end of his baseball career. He announced his retirement on January 5, 1957; fifteen days after the successful end of the Montgomery bus boycott led by the 26-year-old pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the 1960s, Robinson became actively involved in the Civil Rights movement with Dr. King. He spoke at Civil Rights rallies in the South for Dr. King, marched in demonstrations with him, and held fund-raisers for Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  Dr. King and Robinson became co-laborers in the African-American struggle for equality.  He considered Jackie Robinson a friend.

At a testimonial dinner for Jackie Robinson on July 20, 1962 celebrating the former Dodger’s upcoming National Baseball Hall of Fame induction in three days, Dr. King paid tribute to him. He defended Robinson’s right to speak out about segregation and civil rights.  “He has the right”, King insisted stoutly,  “because back in the days when integration was not fashionable, he underwent the trauma and the humiliation and the loneliness which comes from being a pilgrim walking the lonesome byways towards the high road of Freedom.  He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.  And that is why we honor him tonight.”**

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may have liked other sports. However; because of Jackie Robinson, baseball appeared to be his favorite.  Since idolizing Robinson while being a teenager in 1947, Dr. King never forgot the significance of the baseball player’s accomplishments in the struggle of African-Americans for equality.

*”At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965 – 1968”, Taylor Branch, p.394

**”Jackie Robinson: A Biography”, Arnold Rampersad, p.7

 

 

Gene Collins: Pitched Last Negro League “No-hitter”

After viewing my previous post on Negro League baseball’s ambidextrous pitcher Larry Kimbrough, Wanda Weatherspoon wanted information shared about her relative who played with the Kansas City Monarchs; Eugene “Gene” Collins. If you have consistently read my blog posts, you know how strongly I believe Negro League baseball is forever woven into the fabric of 20th Century American History.  Wanda is proud her relative is a part of the Negro League story.

collinsBorn January 7, 1925 in Kansas City, Gene Collins came to the Monarchs in 1947 when the face of Major League baseball began to change and the Negro Leagues’ swan song started its tune. That year Jackie Robinson became the first African-American in the 20th Century to play in the Major Leagues. A 5’8”, 168 pound left-handed pitcher, Collins joined a pitching staff that included Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith, both now in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  A good hitter, Collins also spent time playing with Hall of Fame outfielder Willard Brown who along with Monarch teammate Hank Thompson would briefly play for the St. Louis Brown in 1947.  By mid-summer of the next year, Paige would be pitching for the Cleveland Indians.  Buck O’Neil, Ted Strong, Joe Greene, and Manager Frank Duncan were all Monarch veterans that help break in Gene Collins to the life of Negro League baseball.

For seven innings on May 22, 1949 Collins gave up no hits to the Houston (formerly Newark) Eagles. With Kansas City leading 14 – 0, the game ended after the seventh inning and some credit Collins with pitching the last no-hitter in Negro League baseball.  Some research indicates without detail he had pitched a no-hitter earlier while with the Monarchs.

Five of Gene Collins’ young Monarch teammates during his 1947 – 1949 time with the club went on to play in the Major Leagues as racial integration continued in professional baseball; Gene Baker, Elston Howard, Hank Thompson, Curt Roberts, and Connie Johnson. Collins himself began his minor league career with the Chicago White Sox in 1951.  Similar to other teams in the American League, the White Sox took a slow approach to racial integration.  Although the “invisible color line” had been erased, there were still racial barriers that African-American and dark-skinned Latino ball players had to face (quota for number on a team, utility player roster spots for white players only) that hindered many of their careers.  The only African American pitchers in the American League until the late 1950s were two of Collins’ former Monarch teammates:  Satchel Paige who pitched for the Indians (1948 -1949) and the St. Louis Browns (1951 – 1953) and Connie Johnson (White Sox 1953 – 1955 and Baltimore 1955 – 1958).  After spending two years in the lower minor league levels of the White Sox organization, Collins played the remainder of his career in Mexican and Caribbean leagues.  He never played a game in Major League baseball.

The second book I am currently writing deals with the plight of former Negro League players like Gene Collins. With the Civil Rights Movement’s initial beginnings as its backdrop, the book tells of the final demise of Negro League teams as the integration of Major League baseball gained unstoppable momentum in the 1950s.

I invite Wanda and anyone else who knew Gene Collins and would want to add more about his life to provide me your information and I will do another post about him.

To learn more about the Negro League baseball era, read “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.  To order go to (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown) http://www.klmitchell.com

The story of former Major League player Nate Colbert reflects how the baseball dreams of African-American boys changed as a result of Jackie Robinson erasing Major League baseball’s “invisible color line” in 1947.

Colbert August 1

Nate Colbert (right) after game on August 1, 1972

 

On May 2, 1954 in a doubleheader against the New York Giants; St. Louis Cardinal right fielder Stan Musial hit five home runs.  There were 26,662 in attendance that Sunday afternoon at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium to see him do what no other Major League player had accomplished.   In the first game, Musial hit three home runs and drove in six runs in the Cardinal’s 10 – 6 victory.  He hit 2 homers and drove in three runs in the nightcap, but the Giants won 9 – 7.

In the stadium that spring afternoon with his father was eight year old African-American Nate Colbert.  I am sure little Nate was excited about seeing his favorite Cardinal ballplayer, “Stan the Man”, set a Major League record with those five home runs. But Colbert that day also saw Cardinal rookie first baseman Tom Alston, the first African American to appear in a Major League game for the St. Louis Cardinals.

For the first time in the franchise’s history, the 1954 Cardinal team had African-Americans players. The 28-year-old Alston made his Major League debut on April 13, earlier than Brooks Lawrence (June 24) and Bill Greason (May 31), the other two African Americans on the team.  A good defensive first baseman, he had a hot bat against the Giants in the doubleheader witnessed by little Nate.  In the first game Alston got four hits including a home run, his third of the young season, and two RBIs.  The second game he hit a bases loaded double (3 RBIs) in the Cardinals’ first inning.  He ended the day batting .313

Stan Wally Tom

St. Louis Cardinals Wally Moon (left), Stan Musial (center), and Tom Alston (right) after May 2, 1954 game

Little Nate also saw that day three former Negro League baseball players who appeared in both games for the Giants: Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, and Hank Thompson. Irvin and Thompson in 1949 were the first African-Americans to play for the Giants.

Hank Monte Willie

New York Giants Monte Irvin (left), Willie Mays (center), and Hank Thompson (right)

Fast forward this story to 1964. 18 year old Nate Colbert is signed by the Cardinals, but they lose him to the Houston Astros in the 1965 Rule Five draft and he never plays a game in the uniform of his hometown team.  The Astros then trade him to the San Diego Padres in 1969.

On August 1, 1972; in Colbert’s fourth season with the Padres, he ties the record he saw Stan Musial set in 1954.  Colbert hits five home runs in a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta.  He hits two home runs and drives in five runs as the Padres win the first game 9-0 and hits three homers driving in eight runs in his team’s 11 -7 victory in the nightcap.  For the second time in his six years with the Padres, Colbert hits 38 home runs in 1972.

nate colbert

Nate Colbert gets congratulation from Padres’ batboy after hitting home run on August 1, 1972

Little Nate Colbert’s Major League career did not come close to that of Hall of Famer Stan Musial.  To tie or break a record in baseball; however, is considered a great accomplishment.   And Colbert being present to see the record set that he would eventually tie makes this a unique circumstance.   However, Colbert got the opportunity to be able to do what he saw his childhood favorite Cardinal ballplayer do because of what he also witnessed that May afternoon.

By seeing Tom Alston, Willie Mays, Hank Thompson, and Monte Irvin play that day; Colbert witnessed the new day in Major League baseball that was occurring. It had dawned in 1947 when Jackie Robinson became the first African-American in the 20th Century to play Major League baseball.  It was a new day in which the baseball dreams of little Nate Colbert and other African-American boys were no longer confined to Negro League baseball.  A new day that would produce stories like Nate Colbert’s and others as the racial barriers in professional baseball were pulled down in the 1950s and 1960s.

All photos provided by Google Images

To order “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”, go to (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown)

Honoring Jackie Robinson, #42

robinson-day

Please excuse the tardiness of this blog post.  In my effort to assemble a team to play in the Satchel Paige Division (age 11 – 12) of the RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inter-City) program run by the Kansas City Boys and Girls Club, I allowed April 15th to slip by me.  But that is still not a good excuse, considering how important that day is not just in Major League baseball but because of its significance in both African American and 20th Century American history.

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American since before the turn of the century to play Major League baseball. Wearing Number 42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson played first base and batted second in the team’s home opener at Ebbet’s Field against the Boston Braves. In three at bats, he reached base on an error and scored a run in the Dodgers’ 5 – 3 win.

To celebrate the day of Robinson’s debut, last Friday was designated by Major League Baseball; “Jackie Robinson Day”. All Major League players wore number “42”, Jackie’s number, on their uniforms during games that day and other activities were also held at Major League ballparks to honor Robinson.

Growing up in a home where my father and two older brothers were baseball fans, I was made aware at an early age of Jackie Robinson. However; his mark in history, both African American and Twentieth Century American, continues to grow in significance sixty-nine years after that Brooklyn spring day in 1947.  A mark that he made through his excellence on the baseball diamond whose impact goes well beyond the sport itself.

robinson standing

Robinson hit .297 in 1947 and led the National League in stolen bases. Although many sportswriters doubted he would be successful, the National Sportswriters Association named him 1947 National League Rookie of the Year.  In 1949, he led the National League in hitting (.342), stolen bases, and drove in 124 runs.  For his efforts Robinson won the National League Most Valuable Player Award.  He hit over .300 six in his 10 Major League seasons, and over .290 two others.  A six-time National League All-Star, Robinson helped the Dodgers win six National League pennants (finishing second four times) and one World Series championship (1955).

But I missed his playing career!   When I made my entrance into the world in August 1951, Robinson and the Dodgers were in the process of blowing a 14 1/2 lead against the second place New York Giants to lose the National League pennant.  There was no ESPN, CNN Sports, Fox Sports Net, or MLB Network in the 1950s.  I am sure Jackie would have made the ESPN Top Ten Plays of the Day highlights numerous times.  He retired after the 1956 season as I was in the kindergarten class of Miss Williams at Kealing Elementary.  That is why I love seeing the black and white films showing him in action like in the documentary showed last week on PBS; “Jackie Robinson:  A Film by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMaHon”.  The daring way he ran the bases, especially stealing home, is still exciting today.

robinson running

Truthfully Jackie Robinson was not the best player in Negro League baseball when Dodger Vice-President and General Manager Branch Rickey signed him in 1945. But he was named the 1946 International League’s Most Valuable Player while with the Dodgers top minor league team in Montreal.   Bob Feller, the star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians said Robinson would never be good enough as a hitter to make it in the Major Leagues.  How ironic was it that they were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame together in 1962.  Jackie Robinson accepted the hopes and expectations for success of his race as he faced the expectations and predictions of his failure from those opposed to him.  Despite this pressure from all sides, he proved his skeptics wrong and opened the door for other African American and dark-skinned Latino ball players.  Jackie Robinson was an extra-ordinary man God equipped for a super extra-ordinary task!

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