Friday, May 7, 2010

Record 46,572 See Dodgers Beat Cubs, 4-2

     A cursory glance at page 1 of the Tribune sports section for May 19, 1947, would have revealed the headline above, followed by a subhead reading "Brooklyn Bats Rout Schmitz in 4-Run 7th," and by a sub-subhead reading "It's Fifth Defeat in Row for Chicago."
     One would have had to read the small type to discover that the largest paid crowd in Cubs history had turned out not to root, root, root for the home team, but to witness the Chicago debut of Jackie Robinson, who was a month into his career as the first African-American player in major league baseball.
    Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey had been itching to sign African-American players for some time, and he had finally settled on Robinson as the man who best combined the playing ability and intestinal fortitude that would be required of the first one. Robinson was no kid at 28 years old, and he was both a college graduate and a former Army officer. He was also suitably sure of himself.
     In his first game in Chicago, Robinson went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts (thus ending his 14-game hitting streak), and he also made an error playing first base. The crowd cheered his every move nonetheless. The Dodgers' win and Cubs' loss left the two clubs tied at 14-12 for the young season, but they were headed in opposite directions. The Cubs were in the first of 16 consecutive seasons in which they'd finish at or below the .500 level. The Dodgers were destined to win the National League pennant in 1947 and five more times in the next nine years.
     For the season, Robinson batted .297, led the league with 29 stolen bases, scored 125 runs, and won the Rookie of the Year award (which has since been named for him). Two years later, he was elected Most Valuable Player.
     Robinson's success on the field and deportment off it paved the way for a parade of great African-American players who soon followed, including Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Frank Robinson, and other All-Stars and Hall of Famers too numerous to list.

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