Friday, May 18, 2012

Cubs 365, May 18

On this day in 1947, Jackie Robinson made his first career appearance in Chicago, in front of a sold out Wrigley Field crowd. (Among the people in the crowd: a young Ronnie Woo Woo attending his first Cubs game). The Dodgers beat the Cubs 4-2, but that doesn't even begin to tell the story of that day.

A few months earlier, when the Dodgers had announced that Jackie Robinson would be playing for them that season, Cubs players held a closed door vote about whether or not they would take the field when they played against the Dodgers. The final vote tally was not released, but the Cubs voted no. Their owner, Phillip Wrigley, also voted no. He was afraid that the white North Side neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field would rebel and take it out on the Cubs. The players and owners were overruled by Commissioner Happy Chandler, who forced everyone to accept Robinson or be barred from the game.

Needless to say, they went along reluctantly. The Cubs were a team that featured many Southerners like catchers Clyde McCollough and Dewey Williams, and pitchers Claude Passeau, Bill Lee, and Hank Wyse. This was not a good combination for Jackie Robinson when he stepped to the plate. Hank Wyse, an Oklahoman, explained what happened in the book "Wrigleyville."

"I remember the first game against him (in Brooklyn). I don't remember who started (It was Wyse himself), but every time he come up, we knocked him down four times. The pitcher would stay in there until it was his turn to come up, and they'd knock Robinson down four more times. When it come time for the pitcher to come up, we'd take him out and let somebody else in, 'cause you knew darn well that the Dodgers were goin to knock him down. So we changed pitchers during the ball game. Paul Erickson was the last pitcher, and the last time he came up, Erickson throwed it at his head, and he went down. He got back up, and he stuck one in his ribs. All four times he got up they knocked him down. All four pitches. He didn't say nothin. He just got up and trotted down to first."

By the time Robinson came to Chicago on May 18, Cubs pitchers were no longer throwing at him. Jackie faced a tough pitcher that day (Johnny Schmitz) and only put the ball in play one time, but every move he made was cheered by the African Americans in the crowd--people that had rarely attended games at Wrigley Field before.

The crowd numbered 46,572; still the largest paid attendance in the ballpark's history.

(A young Mike Royko was also in attendance that day, and wrote a great column about it on the day that Jackie Robinson passed away--you can read it here.)