William H. Johnson
On April 15, 1947, in Brooklyn, New York, an African American player took the field in a Major League baseball game for the first time in the modern baseball era. In descriptions of Jackie Robinson’s arrival, there is rarely mention of another rookie who debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers that afternoon, a third baseman who batted seventh and wore No. 21, Spider Jorgensen.
John Donald Jorgensen was born on November 3, 1919, in Folsom, California, near Sacramento. He was the seventh child (along with two sisters and four brothers) of Walter and Winifred (Carney) Jorgensen. Walter, the son of a Danish-born father and Irish American mother, was a California-born dredge operator in the Sacramento River delta. Winifred, also born in California, was the daughter of Irish immigrants. There is little documentation regarding Jorgensen’s early life or scholastic athletic career. At Folsom High School, from which he graduated in 1936, John acquired the nickname “Spider.” In the June 1998 issue of Baseball Digest, sportswriter Phil Elderkin wrote that the nickname came from a pair of black shorts with an orange stripe down the side that Jorgensen wore playing basketball. “The weekend before, a teacher had been cleaning out a woodshed and had to kill a black widow spider,” Jorgensen related. “When he saw me, he told everyone I reminded him of the spider.”
A proposed scholarship to study business at the University of Santa Clara fell through; consequently, Jorgensen spent two years at various jobs in Sacramento and playing baseball in the semipro Sacramento Winter League. In 1939, and again in 1941, he played baseball at Sacramento City College. A second baseman when he entered college, he was moved to third base when the team’s regular third baseman was injured.
Spider Jorgensen’s only Major League season as a regular
In 1940 Jorgensen participated in a Dodgers tryout camp run by scout Tom Downey in San Mateo, California. He performed well enough that, in 1941, after he had finished at Sacramento City College, scouts Downey and Bill Svilich persuaded him to sign a contract with Brooklyn. The twenty-