Sport and the Color Line: Black Athletes and Race Relations in Twentieth-Century America

By Patrick B. Miller; David K. Wiggins | Go to book overview

9

JACKIE ROBINSON

"A Lone Negro" in Major League Baseball

Jules Tygiel

A lone Negro in the game will face caustic comments. He will be made the target of cruel, filthy epithets. Of course, I know the time will come when the ice will have to be broken. Both by the organized game and by the colored player who is willing to volunteer and thus become a sort of martyr to the cause.

-Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith, 1938

WHEN JACKIE ROBINSON ARRIVED in Brooklyn in 1947, gasoline-powered buses were replacing the electric trolleys that had given the team its name. These two developments-the appearance of a black baseball player and the invasion of the internal combustion engine-symbolized the forces transforming Brooklyn. Wartime migrations had sprinkled the borough's predominantly white, middle-class population with blacks from the South and Latinos from Puerto Rico. At the same time, the greater availability of the automobile and the rapid construction of highways facilitated the exodus of the expanding white middle class to the suburbs and points farther west. The Robinsons journeyed from California to New York; many more people traveled in the other direction. At the dawning of the age of Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn had entered its twilight era, a victim of the postwar transition affecting America's venerable industrial regions. Within a decade these changes would realign the borough's ethnic and racial composition, undermine its local economy, and, to emphasize the decline, banish its baseball club to the land of freeways. What meaning hath the term "Dodgers" in a city with no trolleys?

Robinson joined a Dodger squad that had set a new Brooklyn attendance record as it tied for first place in 1946. A playoff loss to the Cardinals kept Brooklyn out of the World Series. Few people, however, predicted that the team would reemerge as a contender. "Brooklyn is the one club which appears to lack peace of mind," wrote Tom Spink in the Sporting News, picking the club for fifth place. 1 For Jackie Robinson, relative tranquility characterized the initial week of the 1947 season. In the first two contests, facing the Boston Braves, the rookie first baseman eked out one bunt single, "He seemed frantic with eagerness, restless as a can of worms," observed a Boston correspondent. 2 On April 18, the Dodgers crossed the East River to play the New York Giants. Over 37,000 people flocked to the Polo Grounds to witness Robinson's first appearance outside of Brooklyn. Robinson responded with his first major league home run. The following day the largest Saturday

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