A Hero of Mine – Jackie Robinson

Trips to major league baseball games and admiring Jackie Robinson

East Hill Farm c. 1944
East Hill Farm c. 1944
Magazine cover "Open Road for Boys"
aerial photo of Braves Field in Boston
Aerial photo of Braves Field in Boston
Jackie Robinson in the dugout before his first at bat in the Major Leagues -1947
Jackie Robinson in the dugout before his first at bat in the Major Leagues for the Brooklyn Dogers -1947
Baseball card of Jackie Robinson as a rookie
Baseball card of Jackie Robinson as a rookie
Jackie Robinson stealing a base from Phil Rizzuto in the 1947 Wold Series
Jackie Robinson stealing a base from Phil Rizzuto in the 1947 Wold Series

My father bought a farm, which he had somebody else run, up on East Hill out in Barre Town, and I could pick up WHN, New York, which was the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ baseball games. Red Barber was the announcer everybody remembers, but there were others. Connie Desmond and later Vin Scully announced those games.

At that time there were two pitchers. Whitlow Wyatt was one I remember from the Brooklyn Dodgers, who won 22 games one year, versus Mark Cooper from the St. Louis Cardinals. And the Cardinals were at that time, the great enemy. So I began to bleed Dodger blue for no particular reason.

There were two magazines that were sold and bought primarily by young boys from 12 to 15. The first was Boys Life. The other was The Open Road for Boys. And I, somehow or other, got a copy of The Open Road for Boys, and there was a story of a young man named Roy Tucker. He was a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and he hurt his arm and went back to the minors. And then came back and went back to the Dodgers and played center field because his arm was not adequate to be a pitcher anymore. That was my start with the Brooklyn Dodgers

My aunt took me down to Braves Field—first time I ever went to a major league baseball game. I remember, we went out to the ballpark before the day of the game just to see what it looked like. I remember looking out on that field, and my first thought was, “My God, it’s in color.” Because in those days, in the movies, everything was black and white. And so when you go to a baseball game with the beautiful green grass and the colorful scoreboards and advertising signs and so on, it’s a different thing. It was the Dodgers and the Braves. I remember the occasion. We went several different times. I got to Yankee Stadium later on. I got to Ebbets Field on my wedding trip. Damn near froze to death, but I saw Jackie Robinson, who became a hero of mine.

When Robinson came up in ‘47, I was still in high school. My father was president of the National Life at the time. Either that or he had a good job there, general counsel, one or the other. He, he was friendly with the advertising director of American Magazine. And he somehow got two tickets to the second game of the World Series in 1947 at Yankee Stadium. One he got for me, and he had a friend, another attorney, who agreed to take me down, and we went down. As I recall we went on the train, although I don’t have any solid recollection of how we traveled there or even the hotel we stayed at.

He said, “We’ll go to the first game too.” Well, we had tickets to the second game, and I didn’t quite figure out how that was gonna happen. He said, “Don’t worry about it.” And he had to meet a fellow for business. He met him, and they got in the cab together. And I was in the front seat, I guess, with the driver. And they were talking business. It’s about ten minutes past one. The game started at 1:30. This is the first game of the 1947 World Series, and we didn’t have a ticket. We finally get to the ballpark, about twenty past one. I think we had about ten minutes to get into the game. We walked over the gate, and Finn says to me, “Give me five bucks, five dollars.” I said, “Alright.” I gave him five dollars, and Finn put some money with it and walked up to the ticket taker, shook hands with the guys and said, “How are ya?”

And the guy said, “How much?” Finn told him how much was in his hand. He let us right in. And I submit that that game and probably a lot of World Series games during those days, that there was at least twice the number of people there that were announced, because we got in very easily.

This is game one. This is the first World Series where an acknowledged black man was allowed to play. But we didn’t have seats. We had standing room wherever we could find it. And there wasn’t an awful lot of standing room. Well, the greatest amount of standing room we could identify was in the upper deck of the right field stands, which when we headed that way we suddenly figured out—or I figured out, I didn’t say anything about it—was all black. And that’s the tickets apparently that they had been allotted in some fashion. So I got up there, I don’t know how it all happened, but here was a little white guy in the back of the back row. And they opened a place for me and put me right down front, and I could see the game wonderfully.

The thing that always surprises me as I think back on that: I was not aware that this was a historic occasion, that this hadn’t happened before. And I’m sure they must’ve been talking about it on the radio or maybe in the New York Times or wherever, but I had no sense of that. Every time I talk about it, I think back on it, and it sort of amazes me.

Robinson was unique. He stole Yogi Berra blind that day. He stole three bases, changed the whole tenor of that first game with the tension he created in the Yankee pitching staff.

I’ve read three books on Jackie Robinson and he was really something to be the man he was and to survive. He was lucky he wasn’t killed by a fastball to the head because they were throwing at him as a matter of course, especially in places like St. Louis and down in spring training in Florida and so on. Even then, I think he was staying in separate hotels often times and eating alone. Quite a hero.

I’ve often felt that Jackie Robinson perhaps changed the attitude or the tenor of how we thought about black people in America. Jackie Robinson did what Obama couldn’t do, and Mandela maybe did do. He made it possible for a union pipe fitter to cheer for a black man in a baseball game in front of all his friends. Apparently the love for the Dodgers was greater than the hate for the Negro or the black man. That’s why Jackie Robinson, in my opinion, is one of the top two or three giants of the century.

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