Of the several thousand team-seasons in baseball history, only a select few stand out, and only a handful might be said to have national appeal. Foremost among those with such national appeal is the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, the first racially integrated Major League team of the twentieth century.
The addition of Jackie Robinson to the 1947 Dodgers changed not only baseball but also the nation. Robinson, however, was just one member of that memorable and iconic club. This was a team that had many great players on its roster, some at the beginning of their careers and some at the end. Along with Robinson, they include Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Pete Reiser, Duke Snider, Eddie Stanky, Arky Vaughan, and Dixie Walker. Also associated with the team was a quartet of baseball’s most unforgettable characters: Branch Rickey, Walter O’Malley, Leo Durocher, and Red Barber.
Several memorable subplots marked the Dodgers’ 1947 season. Just before Opening Day, Commissioner Happy Chandler suspended manager Durocher for the entire season, whereupon Rickey lured his old friend Burt Shotton out of retirement to replace him. Meanwhile, co-owner Walter O’Malley had already begun his maneuverings to take control of the club from Rickey.
Gifted outfielder Pete Reiser was again sidelined after running into an outfield fence; nevertheless, the Dodgers won the National League pennant over their old rivals, the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals. Despite the one-game heroics of Cookie Lavagetto and Al Gionfriddo, whose feats have become part of baseball lore, they lost in a dramatic seven-game World Series to the New York Yankees.
But the biggest story of the season was Jackie Robinson. Historians have said that by joining the Dodgers in 1947, Robinson not only integrated baseball, he also set the stage for the Supreme Court’s groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 and all the civil rights legislation that followed.
During spring training, a mini-revolt by some Dodgers players opposed to Robinson’s joining the team was quashed by Durocher and Rickey. Robinson slowly overcame the enmity of some of his teammates, and he withstood the vicious assaults on his dignity from other players, managers, and fans to win the Rookie of the Year Award. Along the way, he helped the Dodgers set single-game attendance records in cities around the National League, while also changing the face (literally) of product advertisements.
For all these reasons, the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers remain one of baseball’s most treasured teams.