Jackie Robinson made his professional debut not in Brooklyn in 1947, but 76 years ago today in Jersey City, when the Dodgers’ Triple A team, the Montreal Royals opened their minor league season in Roosevelt Stadium, the home park of the Jersey City Giants.
Mayor Hague declared Opening Day in Jersey City a holiday for city employees and school children. On April 18, 1946, Jackie Robinson, wearing a Montreal Royals jersey (#9) stepped to the plate in front of 51,837 raucous fans at the over-capacity Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. Jackie Robinson settled in for his first official at-bat as a professional in an integrated baseball game. Nervous? Perhaps, but not for long. On a full count pitch in his first at-bat, Robinson grounded out to the shortstop. It was the only out he’d make that day. His next plate appearance was a three-run homer, and he was met at home plate with an outstretched hand by teammate George “Shotgun” Shuba – fixed in time by the famed photograph of the moment when black and white teammates saluted each other on the diamond. Robinson followed up the dinger with a bunt single, a steal of second, and ultimately a balk home after rattling the pitcher dancing down the third base line. Robinson’s final stat line was 4-5 with four RBIs in a 14-1 victory.
The Mets had a wonderful opening day ceremony today honoring Jackie Robinson who made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers 75 years ago. It reminds me of the great song by Garland Jeffreys, “Color Line” which was very appropriate for today’s celebration in Queens. The song is from Jeffreys’ 1991 album, Don’t Call Me Buckwheat. Check out the YouTube link below. It shows the album cover which has Jeffreys as a young kid in front of what appears to be Ebbets Field. Garland Jeffreys is now retired. I last saw him in a sold-out concert about seven years ago at Rahway’s Hamilton Stage and he was still rockin’ and rollin’.
The Dodgers were the first major league team to sign a black player. The Boston Red Sox were the last. Elijah “Pumpsie” Green made his debut with Boston on July 1, 1959. He was the brother of Cornell Green who starred with the Dallas Cowboys playing 13 years as a defensive back and appearing in two Super Bowls.
Jackie Robinson had a Hall of Fame career with a lifetime batting average of .313. He was a seven-time All Star, Rookie of the Year in 1947, and the National League MVP and NL Batting Title winner in 1949. He appeared in six World Series with the Dodgers including their World Championship in 1955. Pumpsie Green played four years with the Boston and finished his career in 1963 with the New York Mets.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game in Major League Baseball. Robinson’s appearance that day in a Brooklyn Dodgers’ uniform, wearing his iconic number 42, allowed Major League Baseball to begin the process of overcoming its devastating and immoral white man problem. And because of Robinson’s remarkable grit and grace Major League Baseball would free itself from the bondage of its “white men only” policy and begin to welcome in some of the greatest American athletes. Such brilliant players as Larry Doby, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente would soon don major league uniforms and enable baseball to truly become America’s pastime.