The Team That Forever Changed Baseball and America: The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers

By Lyle Spatz; Maurice Bouchard et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 2. Spring Training in Havana

Irv Goldfarb

“You could not possibly train a baseball squad in Havana. The distractions are too great…. The after-dark program down there would kill a team before it ever had a chance to appear in National League competition.” So opined baseball legend John McGraw when asked why he never took his New York Giants to Cuba, though he often vacationed there himself. “There are too many women, there is too much drinking, there is too much gambling, and the climate is much too hot.”1 Despite McGraw’s warnings, another brilliant baseball mind was to test that theory, and for a very specific reason.

Mention the Brooklyn Dodgers and the year 1947, and any baseball fan will immediately acknowledge it as a landmark season for both the franchise and Major League Baseball. But besides the obvious reason for the familiarity of the year—the signing of Jackie Robinson and the official integration of the Major Leagues—the 47 season was unique for team president Branch Rickey and his club in other areas as well. The Dodgers became the first team in baseball history to have their manager suspended before the season had even begun. Leo Durocher, a character not unfamiliar with controversy, had become fodder for the New York tabloids during the previous year by indulging in violent altercations with umpires, hitting a fan, and allowing actor George Raft to borrow his apartment and conduct a dice game in his living room. Leo added to the chaos when he wed divorced actress Laraine Day, an event that caused the Brooklyn chapter of the Catholic Youth Organization to withdraw its support of the famed Dodgers Knothole Gang.

The Dodgers promoted Jackie Robinson from Montreal just
before the season began.

Durocher then capped it off when he accused New York Yankees president and co-owner Larry MacPhail of entertaining two alleged gamblers at an exhibition game between the clubs. Pointing to MacPhail’s private box, Durocher chided, “If that was my box I’d be barred from baseball.”2 The two gamblers, Connie Immerman and Memphis Engelberg, were actually in the box behind the Yankees executive’s, but the incident was the proverbial straw, forcing Commissioner Albert “Happy” Chandler to call for two hearings between the parties. On April 9, just before the

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