A new era dawns (cont.)
Posted: Friday April 13, 2007 2:35PM; Updated: Friday April 13, 2007 4:05PM
Vendors sold "I'm for Jackie" buttons nearby, as Glenn Stout wrote in his book The Dodgers: 120 Years of Dodgers Baseball, but there were other distractions. For one thing, there was talk of a smallpox scare, and however dubious its merit, people were afraid. And Dodger fans were still dealing with the fact that six days earlier, baseball commissioner Happy Chandler had suspended Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher for the season for conduct detrimental to baseball.
Even Rachel had other things on her mind as she made her way to Ebbets Field with little Jack. According to Coffey, at about 11:30 a.m., she had difficulty hailing a cab, not anticipating or perhaps forgetting that someone might not want to pick her up because of her race. Complicating matters, the baby was under the weather. Her first task upon reaching the ballpark was to find some way to heat his formula. Finally, Rachel found someone who could help her -- a hot dog vendor.
"Settling into her seat, she suddenly realized that this light coat, fine for Los Angeles, was inadequate here," Rampersad wrote. "Then a black woman sitting next to her, whom she would remember as the mother of Ruthe Campanella, Roy's wife, took Jackie and placed him inside her fur coat. Rachel could turn her attention to the field."
One thing that Robinson did not need to feel was alone. In the stands, Rachel was part of a crowd that was estimated to be 60 percent or more black. Among them was a young pitcher named Don Newcombe. In the latest issue of Dodgers Magazine, Ben Platt writes that the 20-year-old future Dodgers star was heading to Nashua, N.H., for his first minor league season but had to stop in Brooklyn to meet with Rickey -- and to see his friend.
"Jackie tried to be gracious, but he was really nervous," Newcombe told Platt. "Jackie was afraid of how well he was or was not going to do and he didn't do very well that day. But he was out there in a Dodger uniform, playing a strange position at first base, which was another worry for him. But he was the kind of man who had no fear for no man or no problem that was going to face him."
Coffey noted that Rachel was "wary, feeling equal parts excitement and trepidation. It was the beginning of an experiment, and if you are mature and realistic, you know experiments don't always work."
The first pitch was imminent. Baseball's color line was about to be broken. "Robinson trotted out to first base in the top half of the inning, a smile creasing his face," Eig wrote. "The Braves sent their first batter, Dick Culler, to the plate. Culler hit a ground ball to third base, where Jorgensen scooped it up and threw to first. Robinson squeezed it for the out. It was a simple catch, but the crowd expressed its delight as if they'd never seen anything quite like it."
In his autobiography, I Never Had It Made, Robinson discussed his feelings on that day, in which he went 0 for 4 but scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh inning of Brooklyn's 5-3 victory. "Less than a week after I became Number 42 on the Brooklyn club, I played my first game with the team," Robinson wrote. "I did a miserable job. I grounded out to the third baseman, flied out to left field, bounced into a double play, was safe on an error, and, later, was removed as a defensive safeguard.
"The next four games reflected my deep slump. I went to plate twenty times without one base hit. Burt Shotton, a man I respected and liked, had replaced Durocher as manager. As my slump deepened, I appreciated Shotton's patience and understanding. I knew the pressure was on him to take me out of the lineup. People began recalling Bob Feller's analysis of me. I was 'good field, no hit.' There were others who doubted that I could field and some who hoped I would flunk out and thus establish that blacks weren't ready for the majors."
But despite Robinson's play, as the sun set on April 15, 1947, it was, in fact, the dawn of a bright, new day.