Wednesday, April 16, 2008

When Robinson "made it"

The numbers show that Jackie Robinson had a successful rookie season in 1947 (.297 average, 29 steals, 125 runs), but it wasn't until the next year that he truly felt he'd arrived.

On August 24, 1948—sixteen months after becoming the first African-American ballplayer in modern major league history—Jackie Robinson finally “made” it in the big leagues when he became the first black player to be thrown out of a major league game. In the fourth inning of a 2-1 game between Brooklyn and Pittsburgh, umpire Butch Henline warned Robinson and the rest of his Dodger teammates against yelling from the dugout. But Robinson and his distinctive high-pitched voice disobeyed, and the thumb came out quick. Robinson argued the ejection to no avail, as his Dodgers went on to lose 9-1.

“Well,” he said after the game, laughing, “I broke in tonight.”

The word around the league had been that umpires were afraid to toss Robinson. “I saw Robinson even throw his cap into the air on a decision by an umpire and nothing happened to him,” said one anonymous player. “I always thought that was an automatic ‘out’.”

Perhaps as much as his actual major league debut, the occasion of his ejection may have helped solidify the place of Robinson and other blacks in the majors. If nothing else, it sent a signal around the majors, where six other Negro league veterans had played since April 1947: We don’t want any special treatment. We are ballplayers, like you.

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