"I was just knocked off balance," Robinson replied.
Greenberg, a New York-born Jew who had come up with Detroit in 1933, had known the sting of ethnic slurs, and Robbie sensed at once the empathy of a man who had fought the same battle years before. Greenberg asked him how things were going, and Robinson said, "Pretty good, but it's plenty rough up here."
Greenberg said he understood. "You're a good ballplayer, and you'll do all right," the future Hall of Famer told the future Hall of Famer. "Just stay in there...and always keep your head up."
The next day, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Vince Johnson wrote that the Pirates' Ralph Kiner had hit two home runs and Billy Cox had hit one, "but they had to share the applause of the 13,000 fans with Jackie Robinson, a ballplayer who has what it takes."
Pittsburgh was the warmest port Robinson had been in yet. On May 16 he went 2 for 4 in a 3-1 Dodgers victory over the Pirates, and the next day he stroked two more singles in a 4-0 loss, extending his hitting streak to 14 games and raising his batting average to .299. More important, Robinson could feel his teammates circling closer around him. On May 17, when Pittsburgh pitcher Fritz Ostermueller nearly beaned him with a rising fastball—it struck Robinson's arm as he jerked it up to shield his head—the Dodgers in the dugout rose to their feet, gathered on the steps and peppered Ostermueller with threats and profanity. In the May 24 Pittsburgh Courier, Robinson's closest friend among the writers, Wendell Smith, wrote, "It was then that they displayed, probably for the first time, that they regard him as one of them."
It was in Pittsburgh, recalls Barney, that one of the Dodgers' most respected leaders, Branca, tried to rally the team around Robinson. For weeks Reese had been quietly urging his teammates to get behind the rookie, but it was Branca who called the first meeting for that purpose. Robinson was not present. "We have to get behind Jackie to help him," Branca said. "They're all on him. He's gonna be here. He's here to stay. And he's gonna help us win the pennant."
That was prophetic. On May 18, before 46,572 people, the largest paying crowd ever to see a baseball game in Chicago's Wrigley Field, Robinson went hitless in four at bats, ending his streak, but the Dodgers rallied in the seventh inning to defeat the Cubs 4-2. Brooklyn was on its way to beating St. Louis in the race for the National League pennant, and Robinson, who would end his first season hitting .297, was on track to win the majors' first Rookie of the Year award. The crowds and Robinson's fellow big leaguers were beginning to learn what kind of player he could be. Certainly the Phillies were learning faster than any other team.
"Robinson was one ballplayer you didn't want to get riled up," recalls Andy Seminick, then the Phillies' catcher. "Something about certain players: Get 'em mad and they'd hurt you. Jackie Robinson was definitely one of 'em. He rose to the occasion and clobbered the tar out of us. He beat us everywhere—at bat, on the bases, in the field. Finally Ben Chapman said, 'Let's lay off him. It's not doing any good.' " By the end of May, during that series at Ebbets Field, the Phillies were poking fun at Chapman, who hailed from Alabama, on the subject of Robinson. Philadelphia outfielder Del Ennis had singled and was standing on first base when he heard Robinson singing and humming to himself.
"What was he singing?" Chapman asked Ennis when he returned to the bench.
Ennis did not miss a beat or crack a smile. "Alabama Lullaby," he said.