History rarely arrives with a drumroll, or with a proper pronouncement. Sometimes it just happens. Sometimes it comes in the form of a public-relations man ripping a piece of paper out of his typewriter, proofreading it on the fly, handing it to another man in a suit, then summoning a small gaggle of sportswriters so he can read a prepared statement.
So it was on the afternoon of April 10, 1947, in the fifth inning of an exhibition game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and their Triple-A farm club, the Montreal Royals. Arthur Mann, an assistant to Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, appeared in the Ebbets Field press box. He distributed the press release to reporters, then repeated the words that were on it.
“The Brooklyn Dodgers today purchased the contract of Jackie Roosevelt Robinson from the Montreal Royals.”
There was some irony attached to the announcement. Not 10 seconds before Mann appeared in the press box, Robinson had popped into an inning-ending double play while attempting to bunt. It was part of an 0-for-3 day for him, and the sportswriters had already begun to speculate that failing such a test might force Robinson to break camp with Montreal rather than Brooklyn, postponing the moment when baseball would shatter a color barrier that had existed since 1885, the year after Moses Fleetwood Walker caught for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the old American Association.
The so-called “gentleman’s agreement” had been on the clock ever since Rickey had signed Robinson a year earlier, and it was clear Robinson, at 28, was going to be the one to take a hammer to 62 shameful years of exclusion. But he sure looked shaky that day at Ebbets Field, in front of 14,282 of Brooklyn’s faithful who’d shown up, primarily, to see him.
And then, suddenly, typed words on white paper:
Jackie Robinson was a Brooklyn Dodger.
Most of the people who left the ballpark that day had no idea, and wouldn’t until the next morning when they’d snap open the Brooklyn Eagle and learn of the news, when they saw Robinson proclaim, “I’m thrilled. It’s what I’ve been waiting for,” and answer his Royals teammates who wished him well: “Thanks. I’ll need it.”
Friday, we will celebrate the anniversary of when that all became official, the day Jackie Robinson officially became one of the most revered athletes of all time — a journey that would begin with a 5-3 Dodgers victory over the Boston Braves, a game in which Robinson walked and scored a run.
But this all truly began 75 years ago Sunday, when the Dodgers made it official, when they officially made a place on a major league roster for an African-American for the first time since Chester A. Arthur was president. There is a photograph — probably one of the two or three most famous sports pictures of all time — taken that day of Robinson, still in his Royals uniform, his mitt in his raised left hand, a smile on his face, as he’s about to walk into the Dodgers clubhouse for the first time.
The door of the clubhouse says: “KEEP OUT.”
But Jackie’s right hand is on the doorknob, and the door is slightly ajar, and would stay that way for the balance of time. It is an extraordinary photo on about 30 levels.
“We are all agreed,” Rickey himself would tell the writers later in the day, “that Jackie is ready for the chance.”
Clyde Sukeforth, recently named to replace suspended manager Leo Durocher (and himself soon to be replaced by Burt Shotton), could barely contain his excitement learning of the Dodgers’ new arrival, who’d won the International League batting crown in ’46, hitting .349.
“I think he’s a great enough all-around athlete to play any position,” Sukeforth said. “The record shows he plays best under pressure, so I’m sure he’ll help our club a lot.
“As far as any players resenting him: Last spring there were several Montreal players who frankly didn’t like the idea of playing with him. But he’s such a fine fellow and outstanding player, they all grew to like him.”
History will bear that’s about as accurate a scouting report as anyone could’ve mustered on April 10, 1947, when baseball took its greatest leap forward. Seventy-five years after Jackie Robinson nudged open that door, it is right to remember just how remarkable that leap was.
As you watch the generation of “next Tigers” — Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, to name a few — retreat to the median of “excellent” rather than “epic,” it is more and more apparent just how over-the-top extraordinary the real Tiger Woods was in his prime.
I get it, Yankees fans, you have high standards. But when I start getting emails critiquing games like the one Friday — a game the Yankees happened to win, by the way — then I think maybe a few deep, cleansing breaths are a fine suggestion.
The Mets will unveil Tom Seaver’s statue outside Citi Field on Friday, and there will be a large contingent of Mets staff who will make sure to be there. Seaver became an immensely popular figure among the Mets’ office workers during his visits to Citi after it opened, quick with hellos and kind words.
Obi Toppin is playing like a guy who goes birdie-birdie-birdie on 16, 17 and 18. Too bad he can’t sign up for another nine this season, but he’s been opening some eyes (though, for the record, these eyes have been wide open on Obi from the start).
Whack Back at Vac
George Corchis: Billy Crystal threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium to hype his new Broadway show. What really would’ve put the moment over the top is if he wore his Mets cap from “City Slickers.”
Vac: I’ve often wondered if he’s received as much trash talk from his friends who know his true baseball alliance as other folks would have if they did the same thing. Especially since the Mets were the better team when the movie was being made (1990).
Chris Sheldon: MLB’s decision to put numerous Friday games on streaming services should be called Friday Night Lights Out.
Vac: It was a tough one Friday over at Apple TV+. My wife, a genuine sports agnostic, at one point asked incredulously, “Where did they get these announcers?”
@johnschaefer: The Mets haven’t had a lot of that grit on the mound. Jacob DeGrom, yes. Beyond that, not much. Max Scherzer delivers that. That’s what Steve Cohen paid for.
@MikeVacc: Even absent his best stuff Friday, you could see why Mad Max is just a little bit different than everyone else.
Stephen Nicholson: I’m a fanatical Yankees fan, and I always loved Buck Showalter. He always explains baseball concisely without arrogance. I always wanted him to manage again, so … I’ll be rooting for him to go all the way.
Vac: Not many coaches or managers develop as many devotees as Showalter does.