4/15/1947, or “Why are they all wearing #42?”

Of all the words of baseball history I’ve come across, I think the most beautiful are these attributed to then-NL President Ford Frick, responding to rumors of a boycott against Jackie Robinson:

I do not care if half the league strikes. Those who do it will encounter quick retribution. All will be suspended and I don’t care if it wrecks the National League for five years. This is the United States of America and one citizen has as much right to play as another.

The National League will go down the line with Robinson whatever the consequences. You will find if you go through with your intention that you have been guilty of complete madness.

In 1883, Cap Anson and other stars of the day had threatened to take their ball and go home rather than take the field with a black player. Sixty-three years later, Frick — the sixth NL president in the segregated era — and other fair-minded people told Anson’s spiritual heirs, Who needs you? As usually happens in such cases, the bullies backed down.

As a sidebar, if there’s any doubt that Jackie was one of the most valuable players in baseball history, here’s the all-time top 20 in Wins Above Replacement for ages 28-37:

Rk Player bWAR G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Babe Ruth 104.6 1418 6346 4989 1355 1771 282 66 455 1377 1255 728 23 72 77 .355 .487 .712 1.198
2 Barry Bonds 90.6 1429 6162 4751 1158 1478 294 37 437 1096 1311 739 54 242 68 .311 .461 .664 1.126
3 Honus Wagner 88.9 1396 5944 5207 983 1788 347 139 54 900 550 363 66 444 .343 .413 .495 .907
4 Willie Mays 88.2 1532 6403 5631 1111 1701 285 55 371 1049 697 770 21 147 44 .302 .378 .570 .948
5 Hank Aaron 73.7 1521 6497 5730 1072 1766 298 28 386 1097 701 717 12 177 45 .308 .382 .572 .954
6 Ty Cobb 72.1 1365 6091 5253 1066 1937 346 131 46 833 656 262 32 359 124 .369 .442 .511 .953
7 Mike Schmidt 69.6 1475 6224 5155 963 1426 249 32 361 1031 959 1084 35 82 48 .277 .389 .547 .936
8 Lou Gehrig 68.4 1243 5637 4674 1114 1582 286 74 306 1184 927 376 27 60 56 .338 .451 .628 1.078
9 Stan Musial 68.3 1498 6591 5637 1039 1891 384 72 288 1051 889 352 26 31 28 .335 .426 .582 1.009
10 Tris Speaker 68.3 1371 5967 5007 983 1801 434 100 66 798 763 131 42 149 65 .360 .448 .526 .974
11 Joe Morgan 66.4 1385 5913 4777 929 1341 253 33 171 692 1040 494 22 444 95 .281 .407 .455 .862
12 Nap Lajoie 64.6 1270 5321 4802 681 1650 350 68 25 737 324 182 56 190 5 .344 .392 .460 .852
13 Rogers Hornsby 64.3 1084 4586 3834 838 1412 290 55 183 836 605 300 15 31 15 .368 .456 .616 1.072
14 Roberto Clemente 63.6 1372 5837 5355 847 1770 249 99 165 811 412 771 20 51 16 .331 .378 .506 .884
15 Jackie Robinson 63.2 1382 5804 4877 947 1518 273 54 137 734 740 291 72 197 30 .311 .409 .474 .883
16 Ted Williams 61.4 1079 4718 3675 850 1264 253 27 253 914 1026 309 11 11 4 .344 .488 .634 1.122
17 Charlie Gehringer 59.2 1419 6425 5534 1143 1825 386 64 140 986 798 209 25 92 37 .330 .417 .499 .915
18 Wade Boggs 57.9 1415 6392 5401 920 1770 358 38 79 613 901 436 18 10 24 .328 .421 .452 .873
19 Eddie Collins 57.0 1445 6421 5265 919 1731 208 95 27 662 816 189 27 336 127 .329 .421 .420 .841
20 Rickey Henderson 54.2 1253 5508 4457 967 1268 224 20 141 470 967 629 48 526 114 .284 .415 .439 .854
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/15/2012.

What might Jackie’s career have looked like if MLB had allowed him in before age 28? Well, for the other 19 players on the list above, the median WAR through age 27 was a cool 50. And 16 of those 19 are among the top 20 in career WAR.

It seems fitting that the standings of April 15, 2012 show the Dodgers alone at the top, and that their best player (and probably the most valuable in the game today) is an African-American from Oklahoma, a former slave territory.

It’s a great day for a ballgame, folks. Let’s all play.

(Tip of the ol’ Brooklyn Bridegrooms cap to Doug Glanville, Buster Olney, Joe Posnanski, Timothy Rapp, John Thorn, and Graham Womack.)

Doug Glanville,

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99 Comments on "4/15/1947, or “Why are they all wearing #42?”"

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Hub Kid
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Great quote, stats and story, John. Huzzah for baseball and fair play!

Mike L
Guest

John A, you would be surprised at the number of people who would agree with Frick. They are all over this country, and at least when it comes to professional sports, come from all over the socio-economic spectrum. It’s definitely not my ideology, but labor, in any form, organized or not, skilled or not, public service or private sector, sports star or ditch-digger, is a major whipping boy.

vivaeljason
Guest

Wait…do you mean they’d agree with Anson? I’m confused by what you’re trying to say.

Mike L
Guest

What I said was dumb. I’ve mentioned before I’m not a math guy. For some reason I was thinking of Frick in 1963 (I was careless in reading) when there were some early labor issues, and not Frick 63 years after Cap Anson, when he took the absolute correct stand. Sorry

vivaeljason
Guest

I’m definitely a union man. I just was very confused reading your post, Mike. No worries. 🙂

Mike L
Guest

Thanks. Kind of an interesting round trip with the Dodgers regarding labor issues. In 1966, Koufax and Drysdale did a joint holdout-and hired agents, O’Malley just brushed them off. They later signed, without agents, for a lot less than they wanted. In 1966, reserve clause, one year contracts, and being banished to the minors pretty much meant you were bound for life.

Mike L
Guest

I misread the syntax of the quote. I thought he was discussing an overall work stoppage for labor reasons and not for racial reasons. Frick was absolutely right. Btw the spiritual heirs of Anson are still out there. Read comments to any political article and you would be amazed at how quickly some people veer from policy criticism to ugly stuff.

Hartvig
Guest

Great stuff John. Great day for baseball and a great day for America.

And while I’m sure the readers of this blog are well aware of how great Robinson was, the list you posted should dispel the notion that he was elected to the HOF “just” because he broke the color barrier. In spite of playing in the most difficult situation imaginable his greatness as a ballplayer still shone thru.

Neil L.
Guest
It is interesting in a country (Canada), where I live, without all of the race baggage of our great Southern neighbour, to see the Toronto players and coaches sporting the number 42 on their backs. My take on Jackie Robinson Day in MLB, from a Canadian perspective, is that Branch Rickey signed him out of the Negro American League and sent Jackie to play for the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers International League affiliate, in 1946. He called him up to the majors in 1947 and the rest is history. Mr. Rickey “integrated” Jackie Robinson, in a minor-league sense, in… Read more »
Hartvig
Guest

Of interest on that Montreal team was one of Robinson’s teammates: a then 29 year old Al Campanis, later a long time Dodger General Manager who was fired for racially insensitive remarks. I don’t think that at heart Campanis was a virulent racist but I do think that growing up when he did may have left him with some ingrained stereotypes that he had never fully come to terms with.

Long before MLB was integrated, Satchel Paige pitched one summer for an mostly white semi-pro team in Bismark, North Dakota.

Neil L.
Guest

Wow, Hartvig, I had forgotten about Mr. Campanis’s inappropriate remarks several years ago. Talk about coming full circle ……

Very nice connection!

kds
Guest

“Negro” and I think some integrated teams regularly played in a national semi-pro tournament in Denver iirc.

Robinson was a great athlete, baseball was probably his 4th best sport as an amateur, but offered the best opportunity for professional income.

no statistician but
Guest

To those of us who can remember that far back, Robinson on the field seemed a bundle of controlled aggression directed toward one thing, winning the game. Something I’ve always felt, but of course with no statistical way to substantiate it, is that he rejuvenated the stolen base as a strategic weapon, leading first to Mays and Aparicio, then onward to the proliferation of base stealers in the Sixties.

Any help on this from you stat guys?

bstar
Guest

First, John, great quote indeed from Ford Frick. I was moved by his words and yours.

Yeah, no stat, I never saw Jackie R play, but the one thing I always took from the little film I’ve seen of him was similar to yours: the reckless abandon with which he attacked the basepaths. To me, it’s very reminiscent of two other players I never saw play: Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente. All three seemed to be hurdling themselves toward the next base with every ounce of energy they could muster out of their bodies.

vivaeljason
Guest

That reckless abandon thing is most certainly true. All footage I’ve ever seen of Robinson is that he approached every play, no matter, the circumstances, with 100% of his efforts and energy.

vivaeljason
Guest
For one thing, Robinson led the majors in steals in ’47 and ’49. He was in the top ten in every year but ’53. I wouldn’t say Robinson revitalized the steal (he only stole 30 once) but he was consistent and people noticed that he was a good base stealer. In my estimation, Robinson was good for the era but Mays, Aparicio, and of course Wills were the guys to make the SB useful again. Plus, the late 30s early 40s had some proficient stealers (though this may have been a product of the wartime era) — Ben Chapman, George… Read more »
Mike L
Guest

Not that this means much statistically, but my father, who was a NY Giant fan, said Robinson was one of a kind-while he didn’t steal that much, he continuously pressured the pitcher and the infield. He thought Jackie was the most exciting player in the game-always going full out, always challenging the other team.

bstar
Guest

Listening to the Braves broadcast, they were talking about Jackie and his steal of home in game 1 of the 1955 World Series against the Yanks. Apparently he was dancing up and down the third base line repeatedly, tempting Whitey Ford to pick him off before he finally took off for home plate and slid in safely, cutting the Yanks lead to 6-5. NYY hung on to win:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA195509280.shtml

bstar
Guest

Wow, that’s a close call. He actually looked safe to me, John, as I think his foot touched the plate a split second before Yogi tagged him on the ankle. Tough to call him out, though. We all know the old adage about the ball beating the baserunner to the base thing, and, just hazarding a guess, I’d say that was the prevailing sentiment back then too.

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

@43
No video, but scroll to the bottom and there is a photo of the ump making the out call on Martin:

http://stuffnobodycaresabout.com/2011/09/14/vintage-photos-stealing-home/

Richard Chester
Guest
Funny you should mention Ben Chapman. As manager of the Phils in 1947 he was probably the most virulent racist attacker of Robinson of all. He encouraged the team to join him in his racial barrages against Jackie. When the Yankees took on the Dodgers in the WS during Jackie’s time he was the player I feared the most. I only saw him play in person once, in the 1956 WS. Chapman, Case and Stirnweiss were all blazing fast, accounting for their SB totals. Besides Chapman’s peak was prior to WWII and Case was a great base stealer prior to… Read more »
no statistician but
Guest

Had to check my facts on this, but Robinson was a college man through 1941, took a sports admin job that summer and was drafted in 1942, so I don’t think he could have upped his WAR by much before 1946. Life intervenes.

vivaeljason
Guest

World War II sort of did that to a lot of careers. However, baseball might not have been integrated in 1947 if not for the war. If I recall correctly, one of the things that led to Happy Chandler agreeing to Rickey’s proposal was Chandler believing that people who fought for our country deserving the same rights regardless of skin color. Baseball still may have integrated in 1947 with or without World War II (Landis’s death was still a huge motivating factor), but we can never be sure (obviously).

Lawrence Azrin
Guest
You touched on it, but I think the most important factor in Branch Rickey signing Jackie Robinson to integrate MLB was the death of Landis. There had been talk of organizations and individuals pressuring MLB to integrate before WWII, but none of it was realistic as long as Landis was the Commissioner. Is it a coincidence that Landis died in November 1944, and Rickey announced the signing of Robinson in October 1945? I could be wrong about this – it could be that Landis’ attitude towards integration was no more (or less) bigoted than the average American at the time… Read more »
topper009
Guest

Robinson is the only 4 sport letter winner in UCLA history

BryanM
Guest
John , Great stuff – No-one who saw him play could doubt that Jackie was a very, very great ballplayer, who clearly belongs on anyone’s list of the greatest of al time. He also had to be a great human being to deal with what he dealt with in the 1940s and early 1950s. I think it is no coincidence that he leads John’s list in HBP with 72, and he played, of course without a helmet. I think in general our statistics tend to under measure the contributions of the most skillful baserunners, and that it would be possible… Read more »
BryanM
Guest

I hope it’s clear in the foregoing that I mean to say ( with a tip of the cap to No Stat) that numbers are usually a pretty good indicator of a player’s contribution, but in Jackie’s special case, great as the numbers are, they seriously underrepresent his contribution on the field , not just from base running

Doug
Editor

Some of Robinson’s less well known, but more impressive achievements:
– 1st in B-R oWAR 4 consecutive seasons (1949-52)
– also 1st in dWAR (all positions) in 1951
– in first season as an outfielder in 1953, his 1.2 dWAR is 3rd among all players, and places him 2nd among all OFers in TZR
– career rate of 39.1% rate of runs scored per TOB, one of only 21 players since 1920 above 39%

To me, it’s rather embarrasing to MLB that he managed “only” 77.5% support in his HOF vote.

vivaeljason
Guest

On the plus side, he got in on his first ballot. At least there were 75%+ of baseball writers who didn’t have their heads that far up their backsides.

Mike L
Guest
Regarding Campanis and the whole idea of integration, there’s also something else which is hard to describe unless you actually saw it, and I think Richard Chester can talk about it better than I can. Dial back 40-50 years, even putting aside Jim Crow laws, people thought about race entirely differently. Many who abhorred overt racism and felt strongly that African Americans should have equality under the law, did not necessarily see them as equals. Constance Baker Motley was the first African American Federal Judge-in 1966. In popular culture, it wasn’t until the late sixties-early seventies when African American actors… Read more »
Mark in Sydney
Guest

Wasn’t it in ken Burn’s “Baseball” that Mr Rickey took Jackie Robinson, not because he was the finest player, but because he was a “color-man” (trans: a man proud of his racial heritage) and had the mental toughness to succeed in breaking the color barrier?

We are all the poorer in not having Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Buck O’Neill, Willard Brown and the rest playing in a combined league. Great that this sad chapter was finally closed (it required the death of dinosaurs such as Landis), and shameful that it ever existed.

James S
Guest

My dad was a die hard Brooklyn Dodger fan. I remember asking what he thought about Jackie Robinson in 1947. He said “I didn’t like it at first. When I saw that he helped the Dodgers win games, I was OK with it.”

I always thought that was a very honest answer. I also think that probably summed up a lot of attitudes for the time.

Shping
Guest

Thank you, Jackie. For everything.

Timmy Pea
Guest

The most I ever learned about race and baseball, was from reading Hank Aaron’s book. It’s a great book and I would suggest it to everyone. Hank talks about being called bad names in Duluth Minnesota when he was in the minors. That’s not Duluth Georgia and it shows what a complicated issue it was. I would be interested to know who the men where in the 1940’s that fought against Robinson being able to play. I’ll bet some of the names will surprise you.

Nash Bruce
Guest
Timmy, Duluth MN is a very closed place in general. Not racist, just closed. I was as white as the non-spade part of the ace of spades, when I lived there, but I could never quite get my foot in the door, in part because I didn’t have family ties there, and in part because I couldn’t fit into the very narrow definition of what the town considers to be ‘normal’. It is a town with a rich history, and a decent population base, which is essentially totally isolated geographically. Which in turn insulates/isolates it somewhat from the outside world.… Read more »
Timmy Pea
Guest

I wasn’t trashing Duluth, if I remember correctly from Hank’s book he got crap all over the place.

Nash Bruce
Guest

no didn’t think that you were! 🙂

Lawrence Azrin
Guest
#76/birtelcom – “at the very least it doesn’t appear that New York City’s dominance was doing any good for major league baseball attendance nationwide” Yeah, that’s the point that _never_ gets brought up whenever someone claims that the 1947-1960 era was the true Golden Age of baseball. I think the reason that this period got labeled as the “Golden Age” was because: – New York was the country’s media center during this period, so… – many of the baseball writers who, in the 1970/80s, retospectively wrote the history of baseball, started their baseball careers in the NYC area during this… Read more »
Neil L.
Guest
Lawrence, you make many good points about why subsequent baseball generations might view the 1950’s through rose-tinted glasses rather than with the hard lens of objective reality. I may be one of those who has bought in to the sentimentalization of those times. It is difficult to deny anything that you have written. However, I am thinking of all the books that have written about NY teams from the fifties, eulogizing them, immortalizing them. And what about the Scullys, Barbers, and Allens, those golden-throated orators who defined our perceptions of the game back when radio was king? Didn’t people outside… Read more »
Lawrence Azrin
Guest
No, I am _not_ being flippant with that statement of mine that you quoted at the end. I started following MLB back in 1967, with the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox team, Yaz’s Triple Crown Year, then next year “The Year of the Pitcher”, etc… It would be very easy for me to get all nostalgic about that era (1967-1979), and proclaim it the “golden era of baseball”. It is, in fact, basic human nature to believe that cultural conditions when you were between eight and twenty one years old were at their very best (when you first experienced them), and… Read more »
Neil L.
Guest

Fair enough, Lawrence. I understand more clearly what you meant by the Golden Years of baseball are now.

I concede that in our youth and young adulthood we are probably at the most impressionable and idealistic time of life.

And there is no denying that the history of baseball is NY-skewed, paticularly in the time frame we are discussing.

Lawrence Azrin
Guest
Neil L., OK, I’m glad that we’re on the same page. The pull of nostalgia, “BITGOD” (Back In The Good Old Days) is very powerful. It amuses me no end how certain 70s/80s MLB players now talk about how superior their game was to the present day. Back when _those_ guys were playing, there was no shortage of players from the 40s/50s/60s eager to discuss how their game was better, in every way, than the 70s/80s baseball game. Jim Rice and Goose Gossage seem to be the most prominent of the current BITGOD-ers. Ironic that they are the spokesmen, as… Read more »
Max
Guest
OK, I know I am oversimplifying things here, but if you look at Clemente and Robinson, switch a few homers for stolen bases, some hits for walks, and they are basically the same hitter. Would Jackie’s numbers had looked more like Clemente’s if he had come up when he was 20 rather than 28? Would we think of Robinson as that kind of hitter? I like to think so. After all, both Clemente and Robinson get overlooked as players because of their bigger contributions to society. Anyway, I don’t know if i am conveying what I am trying to get… Read more »
BryanM
Guest

Neil@ 51 Sorry if “fake” seems harsh, I should have stuck with make-believe, but celebrities (not just sports) were supposed to be people we aspired to be and the press actively airbrushed away their defects. It seems to me that now we have taken the opposite approach, constantly digging for every weakness ; maybe it’s better but….

bstar
Guest

Bryan, I think somewhere in the middle of the two extremes you just described would be far more appropriate. It bothers me that the scandalous, negative, controversial off-the-field stuff often is front page news while who-did-what in the actual games gets put on the back burner. I just don’t really care about some he said/she said crap someone put on twitter or what sort of remark someone made about this or that, I just care about the games. We need to get back to that.

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