The Opening Day heard 'round the world
Editor's Note: Excerpted with permission from "Opening Day: The story of Jackie Robinson's First Season" by Jonathan Eig. Copyright © 2007 by Jonathan Eig. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Jackie Robinson woke early for Opening Day. By now, his wife and five-month-old son, Jack Jr., had joined him at the McAlpin Hotel in Manhattan. The room was a mess, with diapers drying on the shower rod, baby bottles sitting on the bathroom sink, and a small, electric stove perched precariously atop one of their trunks on the floor. Silverware and dishes were often shoved under the bed, out of sight, in case a newspaper reporter dropped by. Though Branch Rickey had tried to think of everything, it would appear he hadn't given much consideration to the Robinsons' living arrangements, which were growing more difficult by the day.
Robinson dressed and got ready to leave.
"Just in case you have trouble picking me out," he told Rachel on his way out the door, "I'll be wearing number forty-two."
She looked up at her husband, her Jack, who wore the pride and determination of his mother on his face in his strong chin and his bright smile. He was Hollywood handsome, with a high forehead, stern eyes set far apart, a wide nose, and full lips. He might flash a boyish smile from time to time, but for the most part his dark face cast an image of manly strength. If he was nervous before his big first day, he didn't betray it. He joked like a man born to privilege, a man whose lifetime of experience had taught him that one way or another everything was going to work out to his advantage.
He took the subway to work, tabloid newspaper in hand, dressed in a suit and tie and a warm, camelhair overcoat. He was twenty-eight, big and strong and ready. He understood the importance of the day. He was about to become, as the New York Post put it, "the first colored boy ever to don major league flannels." The black-owned Boston Chronicle gave the story a more rhapsodic spin with its top-of-page-one headline: "Triumph of Whole Race Seen in Jackie's Debut in Major-League Ball."
Welcome to the major leagues, Mr. Robinson.
Truly great athletes tend to be those blessed not only with physical skills but also with a gift for psychological segregation -- keeping complicated thoughts apart from the simple ones needed to perform the task at hand. Whether he is smart as a whip or dumb as an ox, getting married later that evening or in the process of losing his wife to another man, whether he is playing before a crowd of fifty thousand or fifty, the great athlete knows how to draw lines, keeping emotion at a distance. Some ballplayers focus so tightly on the ball hurtling toward them that they wouldn't notice if the grass were on fire beneath their feet. Others concentrate on nothing more than the wad of gum crackling in their mouths. Others still become convinced they can read a pitcher's mind and foresee the next pitch he will throw. Robinson was different. He tuned out nothing -- not the catcalls from the grandstand, not the cold shoulders turned by teammates, not the angry glares from the opposing dugout, not the expectations of the millions of black fans across the country who were counting on him to prove they belonged. He sucked it all in the way competitive swimmers suck in air. He turned it into energy. When he reached the clubhouse at Ebbets Field, a few teammates nodded at him. Ralph Branca and Gene Hermanski came over and shook his hand, saying they were happy to have him on the team. Robinson grinned but didn't say anything. The rest of the Dodgers ignored him. As Robinson sat on a folding chair and began to get undressed, reporters lobbed a few easy questions. He smiled and answered briefly. The Dodgers had not yet assigned him a locker, so he found his uniform hanging on a hook attached to a bare wall. He took off his suit, hung it on the hook, and began putting on his uniform, a white undershirt and long blue socks beneath a crisp white jersey and pants.
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The team held a brief meeting before the game, but nothing was said of Robinson. Clyde Sukeforth -- "Sukey," the players called him -- was managing the team while Rickey searched for Durocher's permanent replacement. It was Sukey who had scouted Robinson in 1945, seeing something in the infielder's character he liked, and it was Sukey now who penciled Robinson's name into the starting lineup.
It had not been clear until that moment that Robinson would be the starting first baseman. Even Robinson was unsure. Some who favored the slow and cautious approach to integration had hoped baseball's first black player would be used as a pinch hitter, at least at the start. But Rickey wanted Robinson to jump in with a splash, and Sukeforth, a firm believer in the young man's talents, was happy to go along with the plan. Though he liked to think of himself as an old blueberry farmer from Maine who might leave the game and return to the fields when his services were no longer desired, Sukeforth's life was wrapped in horsehide. The game meant everything to him. Though he was pleased to tell Robinson he would be starting for the Dodgers, he was sensible enough, too, not to make a big fuss about it. He decided not to call a special meeting, not to tell the players how he expected them to behave, and not to fight for Robinson with a fiery speech like the one Durocher had made in spring training. He would let them all work it out on their own.
Robinson was relieved. On his way out of the clubhouse, with the start of the game still hours away, he stopped and checked the mirror, admiring the clean white wool and blue script letters across the front of his Dodger uniform. "It fit me ... ," he recalled, "but I still felt like a stranger, or an uninvited guest."
April 15 was a perfect day for baseball, with blue skies, a soft breeze, and just enough chill in the air to remind fans that a long season of baseball lay ahead. Soon, the fans would begin to arrive in Flatbush, catching their first glimpse of Ebbets Field, a bird's nest of brick and steel tucked inside one square city block. The ballpark had a sneaky kind of beauty. You turned a corner and there it was. The awning in front reminded you of your favorite soda fountain or candy shop, only this place was so much sweeter. Fans entered through a marble rotunda and under a grand chandelier with arms shaped like baseball bats and lamps shaped like balls. The roof was a mere eighty feet high. The grandstand wrapped so snugly around the playing field that you could see your favorite players' expressions, hear their shouts, share their jokes. Watching the Dodgers play at Ebbets Field -- capacity, thirty-two thousand -- was an intimate experience shared by a small and peculiar tribe, an experience that would bring people together and mark them for life. Never was it more true than in 1947.
On Opening Day, Lou Boudreau of the Cleveland Indians once said, the world is all future and no past. In Brooklyn, Opening Day was a holiday, a celebration for the kids who skipped school and the parents who slipped out of work. Most of all, it was a day of wild optimism. For at least one afternoon, the Bums were would-be champs. "Wait till next year" was the team's unofficial motto. It was an also-ran's motto, to be sure, but it nevertheless expressed hope, and hope blossomed in spring no matter how poorly the Dodgers had played the prior year. That was Brooklyn in a nutshell: a borough for strivers and connivers, a place where moxie counted for more than birthright, a place that reveled in its peculiarities and even in its defeats, a place where people moved up and moved out.
In 1947, hopes ran higher than usual. The Dodgers had come achingly close to winning the National League pennant in 1946. Many in the Brooklyn clubhouse believed this would be their year, but Robinson posed concern. Most of the Dodgers had never played with a black man. Many had never spoken to one in any meaningful way. Baseball teams, especially in the day of train travel, tended to be tightly knit groups with carefully constructed social orders. Some players knew their teammates better than they knew their wives. Now, as they waited to meet Robinson, many of the men were afraid he would destroy everything they knew and loved about the culture of the game.
Fans were fearful, too. So much had changed since the war. Allies had become enemies. Enemies had become allies. Women had left their homes and gone to work. Farm workers from the South had moved by the hundreds of thousands to the North, remaking the shape and color of the nation. Unions were organizing. The Communist Party was making noise. Black activists were demanding equality. It was all terribly confusing. Baseball was supposed to provide comfort in such trying times. When the war ended, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and the rest of the big stars swung back into action after missing time to serve in the military, and fans couldn't get enough. Major-league baseball broke all of its attendance records in 1946, and it was poised to break them again in 1947 -- assuming Jackie Robinson didn't change the equation. No one knew what effect his presence might have. Some owners of major-league baseball teams predicted that Robinson would drive white spectators away from the game. Black fans would certainly come out in greater numbers, the owners said, but not enough to offset the loss. Baseball was supposed to provide an escape from the mayhem. Now the purest and simplest of American traditions was about to become as complicated as the rest of the world.
"This is my first ballgame in ten years," said Norman Hazzard, a firefighter from New Haven, Connecticut. "I came out to look at the Negro boy play."
All of Brooklyn's ethnic groups converged. They funneled into narrow lines to get through the turnstiles, and then spread out across the stadium. The Italians, the Irish, and the Jews were always strong in number, while black fans were usually sprinkled lightly about the ballpark. Maybe they made up 5 percent of the crowd, but probably not 10. Whatever the number, their presence was not ordinarily strong enough to make an impression on white fans in attendance. On this day, though, as the Dodgers prepared to face the Boston Braves, the proportions had changed. By one estimate, nearly three-fifths of the fans were black. It was a stunning phenomenon, evident to the Ebbets Field regulars from the moment they entered the park. But the most stunning thing of all was that only about 27,000 people came through the gates -- 2,000 fewer than on Opening Day in 1946, and 5,000 fewer than the ballpark's capacity. Simple math suggests that the crowd included a mere 12,000 white fans. For Opening Day, for the Dodgers, for a team that had finished the 1946 season tied for first, for a community with such a passionate base of fans, and on a day with pretty fair weather, such a turnout was unbelievably poor.
One reporter suggested a smallpox scare, but everyone knew the real reason. White Brooklynites were not accustomed to being surrounded by black Brooklynites, and they were not eager to discover how it felt. Neither did they know how black fans would behave. Brawls were common in the stands at Ebbets Field in the best of times. Fans fought because they'd had too much to drink, or because they couldn't agree on whether the situation called for a sacrifice bunt, or because someone blew cigar smoke in someone else's face, or because someone thought they heard someone say something about someone's mother. Many fans were concerned that Robinson's presence would set off more than the usual number of skirmishes.
Before the season began, aware that such concerns could kill his business, Branch Rickey had summoned some of Brooklyn's leading black citizens for a frank discussion. If Robinson failed, he told the gathering at the Carlton Avenue branch YMCA, it won't be because the media or his teammates mistreated him. "The biggest threat to his success," he said, "is the Negro people themselves." No doubt some jaws dropped. But Rickey continued: "Every one of you will go out and form parades and welcoming committees. You'll strut. You'll wear badges. You'll hold Jackie Robinson Days ... . You'll get drunk. You'll fight. You'll be arrested. You'll wine and dine the player until he is fat and futile. You'll symbolize his importance into a national comedy ... and an ultimate tragedy." Somehow, Rickey got away with his ill-mannered speech. In fact, in the weeks and months ahead, Rickey's message spread throughout the black community. Newspaper columnists used their space to echo Rickey's warning. "Robinson will not be on trial as much as the Negro fan," wrote Fay Young in the Chicago Defender. "The unruly Negro ... can set us back 25 years." Preachers pounded their pulpits to remind congregants not to drink or use profanity in National League ballparks. "let's take it in stride," read the banner headline in the Pittsburgh Courier. Still, fear remained palpable among whites. "The conduct of 'SOME' of your race in the stands (drinking and boisterousness) could be improved upon," one fan wrote to Robinson during the first week of the season, in a letter that reached him at his hotel.
Rachel and Jack Jr. waited until late in the morning before heading for Ebbets Field. Ever since their plane trip from California a few days earlier, the baby, referred to by his parents as "Sugar Lump," had been sick with diarrhea. When they finally got dressed and left the hotel, Rachel had a hard time finding a taxi driver willing to take them to Brooklyn. She began to worry about missing her husband's first trip to the plate. Most taxis were not yet equipped with roof lights to signal when they were vacant, so she threw her arm up and out as dozens of yellow cabs passed her by. For black passengers, hailing a taxi was often an unpleasant experience made more trying by the absence of roof lights. One never knew for certain if the driver kept his foot on the gas because he saw a black face or because his backseat was already occupied. After a long wait, Rachel managed to corral a cab. The meter started at twenty cents, and she and Sugar Lump were on their way.
Her first order of business when she reached Ebbets Field was feeding the baby, so she stopped a hot dog vendor and asked him to warm the baby's formula in a steaming vat of water where he kept his franks. Then she settled into her seat behind the Dodger dugout in a section filled mostly with black men and women. The men in the section wore jackets, ties, overcoats, and hats. The women, their hair done up as if for a night on the town, wore heavy coats, scarves, and gloves. These were not their baseball clothes, not even their Opening Day clothes; these were their Sunday church clothes. This day was special.
Though temperatures were approaching sixty degrees, it felt colder in the grandstand's shade. Rachel, not yet familiar with New York weather, hadn't brought a heavy jacket for herself or the baby, who wore a light-blue suit and matching cap. Rachel handed Jack Jr. over to the woman seated to her right, who tucked him under her fur coat. Fussing over the baby helped distract her from what was happening on the ball field, from all the countless ways in which her husband might be hurt or disappointed that afternoon. Finally, though, Rachel, who had been watching baseball for only about a year and had not yet mastered its nuances, sat back to watch her husband play.
Hilda Chester, the team's unofficial mascot, wore a flowered print dress and clanged her cowbell. The musicians in the Dodger Sym-Phony, a disheveled bunch of Italian-Americans from Williamsburg, banged their drums and honked their horns. Umpires wandered about the field, while the ballplayers around them behaved like children, running and throwing balls and teasing each other, giddy for the start of another season. In the dugout before the game, the Dodgers for the most part left Robinson alone. But when he stepped out onto the field, there was no ignoring him. The sight jolted some of the spectators, as if a man in shoulder pads and a football helmet had run across the baseball diamond. Not much of his skin was visible -- he wore a white, long-sleeved undershirt beneath his jersey, and a blue Dodger cap shaded his face -- but his deep darkness could hardly be missed, even from the bleachers and high up in the grandstand.
Robinson posed for pictures on the dugout steps with the rest of the Dodger infield, John "Spider" Jorgensen (who in spring training had beat out Arky Vaughan), Pee Wee Reese, and Eddie Stanky. Stanky rested an arm on Robinson's shoulder, and the rookie smiled broadly and naturally, as if he were completely at ease and unapologetic. When the pictures were done, the men went about the work of getting ready for the game, loosening their arms and fielding some soft ground balls. Game time approached.
"Jackie is very definitely brunette." That was broadcaster Red Barber's description, as one fan remembered the announcer describing the team's newest player over the WHN airwaves that afternoon. Bobby Parker, fourteen years old, stayed home from school that day to listen to the game. A Dodger rooter from the time he was eight, he lived in Springfield, Massachusetts, where most of the New York City stations came in clear as crystal. He liked to make his own scorecards on lined paper and mark the games' progress while he listened. Bobby had been in some trouble with his mother that year for befriending a Negro boy in his neighborhood. "My mother worried that if we hung together people would react badly," he recalled years later. Her biggest concern seemed to be that someone might want to hurt the black boy, and that her Bobby would be the victim of collateral damage. Listening to the game that afternoon, Bobby felt vindicated in his choice of friends. Parker loved words as much as he loved baseball, and now his two loves came together, because baseball provided him with a vocabulary to talk about race for the first time. If Pee Wee Reese and the other Dodgers could associate with a Negro, he would ask his mother, then why couldn't he?
Under the byline Robert B. Parker, he would go on to write novels, many of them bestsellers, including one set in 1947 in which he imagined Jackie Robinson dodging an assassin's bullets and befriending his white bodyguard. In his most popular series of mysteries, the detective Spenser is often accompanied by his friend Hawk, a tough black man with a knack for escaping trouble. "Looking at a ball game is like looking through a stereopticon," Spenser once said. "Everything seems heightened. The grass is greener. The uniform whites are brighter than they should be. Maybe it's the containment. The narrowing of the focus."
Parker never forgot the way a ballgame narrowed the nation's focus in 1947, nor did he forget the elegance of Red Barber's call: "Jackie is very definitely brunette." The attention of an entire nation was concentrated on Robinson's Opening Day appearance, even if some people, including at least a handful of Robinson's teammates, were trying to pretend it wasn't happening. In the Dodger clubhouse, some of the players failed to acknowledge the presence of the new player. Dixie Walker went so far as to turn from the camera, and away from Robinson, when the Dodgers posed for their annual team picture.
Years later, after Robinson had become a legend, several of his teammates would say they empathized with him that day. They said they could see how difficult it must have been for him, that they were in fact proud to be a part of such a historic moment, that they respected the rookie for his dignity and strength. But no one said such things at the time.
As the baritone Everett McCooey sang a painfully slow rendition of the national anthem, the pitcher Ralph Branca lined up on the field next to Robinson. Branca, twenty-one years old, was tall and dark-haired, with a long face, a hawk nose, and dark patches under his eyes. The son of Italian and Hungarian immigrants, Branca grew up tossing baseballs on the streets of Mount Vernon, New York, with anyone who wanted to play. "Blacks lived right next door to me," he recalled, "then there was an empty lot, then there was a little bungalow with two Paisans, then there was Reverend Tucker's family, they were black, then there were the Levines, who were Jewish ... . I lived in the League of Nations." That explains why he went out of his way to position himself alongside the team's only black player for the anthem. After the game, Branca's brother John teased him about it, saying, "Are you crazy standing next to him? What if some sharpshooter missed him by three feet and got you instead?"
The Dodgers were optimistic, but few objective observers picked them to win the pennant in 1947. In 1946, they had won -- or almost won -- with trickery and aggression, leading the league in fist fights and dirt-stained pants. But they had made no obvious improvements over the winter. Their pitching remained shaky, and they had not a single legitimate power hitter in the lineup. Their two best hitters, Pete Reiser and Dixie Walker, were prone to injury. The third-base job was still up in the air, and Robinson was a huge question mark. To make matters worse, the team was opening the season minus a manager.
Without Durocher, the popular New York Post columnist Jimmy Cannon wrote, "the Dodgers are inept and helpless." The team's greatest strength was its reckless style of play, which Durocher, the madman, had always orchestrated so well. Durocher was loudmouthed and foul, but his instincts for the game were exquisite. He never exactly said the words most closely associated with him -- "Nice guys finish last" -- but he embodied the philosophy. Leo the Lip was no nice guy, and thus far he had never finished last. He seemed to know almost without fail when to call for the steal, when to try the squeeze play, when to hit-and-run, when to curse out his players, and when to let his silence scare them silly. With Durocher gone, New York's sportswriters didn't give the Dodgers much chance. More specifically, they wondered who would stand up for Robinson when his teammates tried again to get rid of him.
Robinson trotted out to first base in the top half of the inning, a smile creasing his face. The Braves sent their first batter, Dick Culler, to the plate. Culler hit a ground ball to third base, where Jorgensen scooped it up and threw to first. Robinson squeezed it for the out. It was a simple catch, but the crowd expressed its delight as if they'd never seen anything quite like it.
It was official now. The game had begun. A black man was playing big-league ball.
Stanky started the bottom half of the first inning with a ground-out. Then came Robinson, greeted by another cheer, this one much bigger than the last. In the stands, some fans stood to get a better look. Shouts of "C'mon, Jackie!" and "We're with you, boy!" rang out across the field. The great Johnny Sain, winner of twenty games the prior year, stood on the mound, ready to go. The Braves' third baseman, Bob Elliott, crept in on the grass in case of a bunt. Catcher Phil Masi crouched behind the plate.
Robinson squeezed his Louisville Slugger, roughly thirty-three ounces and thirty-five inches long, holding the bat high. Sain pitched not at Robinson's head or at his rib cage, as some had feared. He threw wicked curves and whistling fastballs, better pitches than most Robinson had seen, and he threw them for strikes. Robinson swung at one and slapped a sharp ground ball to third base. Elliott grabbed it and tossed to first for the easy out. As Robinson jogged back to the dugout, the crowd roared yet again.
There were more cheers when he came to bat in the third inning. This time he hit a soft fly ball to left for another out. By the fifth inning, the score was tied, 1-1. The Dodgers had a man on base when Robinson, stepping to the plate for the third time, had a chance to play the hero. Once again, the Braves' infielders crept in on the grass, looking for a bunt. As the pitch arrived, Robinson took a hack. It was not a pretty swing -- too much shoulder, not enough wrist, same as usual. He hit it hard and up the middle, but not quite hard enough. Just as the ball was about to skip safely into center field, shortstop Culler dove, gloved it, and, while lying on his stomach, flipped to second base to start a double play. If there were highlight reels in 1947, Culler's gem would have been all over them.
"Too bad about that double-play," said Harry J. Boger, an insurance broker from Brooklyn, talking to a reporter as he watched the game, "but that colored fellow is just under terrific pressure."
Stanky began the bottom of the seventh with a walk -- his specialty. With Stanky leading off first, Robinson stepped to the plate once more. The Dodgers trailed, 3-2. The crowd buzzed. Long shadows fell across the field as Robinson raised his big bat high once again, and, once again, the Braves looked for him to bunt. This time he didn't disappoint. He pushed the ball delicately up the first-base line, perfectly placed. Earl Torgeson, the first baseman, grabbed it and spun around to throw to first. But by now Robinson was dashing down the line, and Torgeson had to hurry. He threw to second baseman Connie Ryan, who was covering the bag, but the throw sailed wide to the right. The ball glanced off Robinson's right shoulder and rolled into foul territory. Stanky zipped to third and Robinson to second. When Pete Reiser followed with a double, Stanky and Robinson both scored to give the Dodgers a 4-3 lead.
Later, the left-fielder Gene Hermanski drove in another run to push the score to 5-3, where it remained. Nearly sixty years later, his memory smoothed by time, Hermanski would tell friends and strangers that it was he who had driven in Robinson with the winning run on Opening Day. "George Washington and Abraham Lincoln didn't know what people were going to say about them twenty-five, fifty years later," he noted. "We didn't know this was history. You wouldn't realize it until later on. Jackie was the first black guy to touch home plate in a big-league game, and I was the one who knocked him in. At least I think I was."
How closely was Robinson being watched? One reporter, Sam Lacy of the Baltimore Afro-American, took a seat opposite the Dodger dugout in order to provide his readers an inning-by-inning account of Robinson's seating choice and facial expressions. Throughout most of the game, the story said, Robinson sat next to Sukeforth, like a new kid at school sticking close to the teacher, although at times he was joined by Pete Reiser, catcher Bruce Edwards, or Tom Tatum, the part-time outfielder who had been his teammate at Montreal. At other times he sat alone. In the bottom of the seventh, after he'd scored the winning run, according to Lacy, Robinson allowed himself a yawn.
Jackie Robinson's family joined him in the spotlight whether they wanted to or not.
The Pittsburgh Courier devoted almost its entire front page to Robinson. The Chicago Defender ran pictures above the masthead and included four stories and a photo essay on its inside pages. The Richmond Afro-American led with two big headlines, Robinson's debut and a report that the city's police department planned to double the number of Negro officers on the force, from four to eight. In the communist Daily Worker, Lester Rodney wrote: "It's hard this Opening Day to write straight baseball and not stop to mention the wonderful fact of Jackie Robinson." The People's Voice of Harlem ran a picture of Robinson in uniform on its front page but dedicated its biggest headline to the story of a black artist beaten by a white mob in Greenwich Village. The Boston Chronicle described Robinson as "very colored" and predicted he would open doors for black Americans well beyond the baseball field.
Elsewhere, however, the response was subdued. There was no notice made from the White House, and no pronouncement from Mayor William O'Dwyer. The New York Times confined the story to the sports page, and even then Robinson was not deemed headline-worthy. His actions on the field were described in the day's game story, but there was no mention of his race and no description of how he was received by fans. Arthur Daley, a sports columnist for the Times, waited until the tenth paragraph of his dispatch to mention Robinson's breakthrough, which he described as "quite uneventful." It was much the same in New York's Daily Mirror, where Robinson went unmentioned until the fourth paragraph of the game story.
It was a pattern that would repeat itself all season long. White journalists had little experience writing about integration, and sportswriters were even more unfamiliar with the subject. Rather than plunge into unfamiliar waters, they stuck close to the shore, treating Robinson as just another ballplayer, except when some unavoidable piece of news like a death threat or a threatened boycott came across their desks and forced the issue.
"Having Jackie on the team is a little strange," one member of the Dodgers told Daley of the Times that day, "just like anything else that's new. We just don't know how to act with him. But he'll be accepted in time. You can be sure of that. Other sports have had Negroes. Why not baseball? I'm for it if he can win games. That's the only test I ask."
Only a handful of people fully appreciated what had happened during the ballgame's two hours and twenty-six minutes. Seldom do heroes recognize their heroics in the instant. In 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier; Jackson Pollock dripped paint on canvas for the first time; Jawaharlal Nehru declared the people of India free at last from British colonial rule; scientists at Bell Labs assembled the first transistor from strips of gold foil on a plastic triangle, held down gently by a piece of germanium; Thor Heyerdahl sailed a balsa raft called the Kon-Tiki from Peru to Polynesia; Miles Davis joined Charlie Parker's quintet, which reshaped the sound of jazz; and Jack Roosevelt Robinson, as ambitious as the rest, played nine innings of baseball. When he was done, a mob of 250 people, most of them white, waited for him outside the ballpark. It took him thirty minutes to work his way through the crowd of backslappers and autograph hounds. When he finally escaped into a friend's car, his body sagged into the cushioned backseat, and he released a heavy sigh.
Back at the McAlpin Hotel that evening, he and his wife took turns going out for dinner so that one of them might stay in the room at all times with the baby. Early in the evening, Ward Morehouse, a drama critic for the New York Sun, knocked on the door of the Robinsons' room and asked for an interview. It took a writer who didn't cover sports to land the best story of the day.
How was your first game? Morehouse asked, as Robinson and Jack Jr. sat on the bed swatting at toys.
"It was all right," Robinson answered. "I did all my thinking last night. Before I went to bed I thanked God for all that's happened, and for the good fortune that's come my way. I belong to the Methodist Church in Pasadena and I used to be a Sunday school teacher at U.C.L.A.; they gave me the bad little boys, and I liked it. I was determined not to give too much thought to it being my first game and that's the way I did it. I didn't want too much pressure ... "I was comfortable on that field in my first game. The Brooklyn players have been swell and they were encouraging all the way. The Brooklyn crowd was certainly on my side, but I don't know how it will be in other parks. The size of the crowd didn't faze me and it never will.
"Now I realize that to stay in the National League, I'll have to hit. I hit .349 for Montreal last year and I was pretty fast, but I already realize there's a difference. The big league pitchers are smarter. I realize that, although I haven't seen but a few of them. Take that fellow Sain ... . He works on you. He has good control. I'm aware that I have to make it this year -- this is my great chance. Will I hit? I hope I'll hit. I believe I'll hit. I'm sure I'll hit."
He picked up Jack Jr., lowered him into his crib, and went right on talking.
"I know that a lot of players, particularly the southern boys, won't be able to change their feelings overnight on the matter of playing ball with a Negro. I can understand that. I have encountered very little antagonism, however; I really expected a great deal more ... I guess now it's all up to me.
" ... I know that I have a certain responsibility to my race, but I've got to try not to feel that way about it because it would be too much of a strain. I'll do my best."
As Rachel returned from dinner, the reporter said good-bye and moved for the door.
Robinson gave him one final instruction: "Just say that I know that this year is the test."