Extra Bases: Reflections on Jackie Robinson, Race, and Baseball History

By Jules Tygiel | Go to book overview

THREE

Jackie Robinson's Signing: The Untold Story

With John Thorn

It was the first week of October 1945. In the Midwest the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs faced off in the final World Series of the World War II era. Two thousand miles away photographer Maurice Terrell arrived at an almost deserted Lane Field, the home of the minor league San Diego Padres. Terrell's assignment was as secretive as some wartime operations: to surreptitiously photograph three black baseball players wearing the uniforms of the Kansas City Royals, a Negro League all-star team. Within three weeks one of these players would rank among the most celebrated and intriguing figures in the nation. But in early October 1945, as he worked out with his teammates in the empty stadium, Jackie Robinson represented the best-kept secret in sports history.

Terrell shot hundreds of motion-picture frames of Robinson and his cohorts. A few appeared in print but the existence of the additional images remained unknown for four decades, until unearthed in 1987 at the Baseball Hall of Fame by John Thorn. This discovery triggered an investigation that has led to startling revelations regarding Brooklyn Dodger president Branch Rickey's original plan to shatter baseball's long-standing color line; the relationship between these two historic figures; and the still controversial issue of black managers in baseball.

The popularly held “frontier” image of Jackie Robinson as a lone gunman facing down a hostile mob has always dominated the integration saga. But new information related to the Terrell photos reveals that while Robinson was the linchpin to Branch Rickey's strategy, in October 1945 Rickey intended to announce the signing of not just Jackie Robinson, but several stars from the Negro Leagues at once. Political pressures, however, forced Rickey's hand, thrusting Robinson alone into a spotlight that he never relinquished.

The path to these revelations began with Thorn's discovery of the Terrell photographs in a collection donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame by Look

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