"I do not care if half the league strikes," Woodward paraphrased Frick as saying. "Those who do it will encounter quick retribution. All will be suspended and I don't care if it wrecks the National League for five years. This is the United States of America, and one citizen has as much right to play as another. The [league] will go down the line with Robinson whatever the consequences. You will find if you go through with this...that you have been guilty of complete madness."
Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer denied that there was a strike brewing, although reports of one appeared in newspapers nationwide, and if the controversy had any ill effect on Robinson, it was not apparent in his play. On May 9 in Philadelphia, in his first game outside New York City, the rookie, "playing under mounting pressure, experienced the best day of his young major league career," Bill Roeder of the New York World-Telegram wrote. The Dodgers lost 6-5, but Robinson kept his team in the game until the end. He not only singled and doubled and scored two runs, running his hitting streak to five games, but also, as Michael Gaven of the Journal American reported, he "made two amazing saves on low throws and executed the best play of his short career [at first]." In the ninth inning, with the Phillies' Lee Handley on first, Robinson raced in to catch Emil Verban's popped bunt, whirled toward first and threw a strike to double Handley.
The "mounting pressure" cited by Roeder included the news, revealed to the press on May 9, that police were investigating letters that had threatened Robinson's life. "He turned them over to me," announced Rickey. "Two of the notes were so vicious that I felt they should be investigated."
The pressure also involved Robinson's lodging when the Dodgers arrived in Philly. The players usually stayed at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, but when they arrived there the hotel manager turned them away, telling the team's traveling secretary, Harold Parrott, "Don't bring your team back here while you have any Nigras with you!" The Dodgers ended up staying at the Warwick. Parrott later wrote that Robinson looked pained over the incident, "knowing we were pariahs because of him."
In the midst of such turmoil, Robinson soldiered on. "I'm just going along playing the best ball I know and doing my best to make good," he told Murray. "Boy, it's rugged."
Earlier that spring Robinson had struggled to make the switch from second base to first, the only position the Dodgers had open at the time. "They just handed him a first baseman's glove," says Barney. "And he had never played first base! He took it, and he never said a word, never complained."
Not surprisingly, at the beginning of the season Robinson had looked tentative at first base. On ground balls between first and second, he was unsure of what to do—cover first and let the second baseman field the ball, or field the ball and let the pitcher cover the bag. "A lot of times," recalls Clyde King, then a Brooklyn pitcher, "Jackie would break for the ball when the second baseman was there to grab it. And then he'd have to make the difficult throw to the pitcher. But Jackie learned quickly."
The night of May 9 Rickey gave Robinson what some saw as a vote of confidence by selling the Dodgers' backup first baseman, Howie Schultz, to the Phillies for $50,000. The next day Rickey announced that he would also give up the aggressive campaign he had been waging to acquire the New York Giants' power-hitting first baseman, Johnny Mize. "We'll be all right," Rickey said. "I don't have the slightest doubt of Robinson's ability. He is finding his way around first base and hitting with more confidence."
On May 10, in a 4-2 win over the Phillies at Shibe Park, Robinson hit in his sixth consecutive game, cracking a waist-high pitch for a single to left in the eighth inning. By then the purported strike had turned Robinson into an even more sympathetic figure and had moved the New York Post's Jimmy Cannon to ask that Robinson "be judged by the scorer's ledger and not by the prejudices of indecent men." Cannon also wrote, for the ages, "It is my belief that Robinson is a big leaguer of ordinary ability."
And yet, however wildly he misjudged the rookie's talent, Cannon was the only writer in New York to glimpse the poignance of Robinson's life as a Dodger: "In the clubhouse Robinson is a stranger. The Dodgers are polite and courteous with him, but it is obvious he is isolated by those with whom he plays. I have never heard remarks made against him or detected any rudeness where he was concerned. But the silence is loud and Robinson never is part of the jovial and aimless banter of the locker room. He is the loneliest man I have ever seen in sports."