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,


Comments

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

  1. 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.

      • 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

          • 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.

  2. 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.

    • The original post may have been a little vague about the context of the quote. I’ve made some edits to try and clear it up.

      • JA, what you’ve added to the post greatly clarifies the context. I read the original and didn’t quite get it the era it referred to until I read on.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 a Canadian-upper-NY-state circuit that included the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Bisons. The farthest south that Jackie had to travel that year was to Baltimore to play in the Orioles’ home park.

    The Royals in 1946, with Jackie Robinson appearing in 124 games, went 100-54 to win the International League pennant.

    Here is the link to that minor-league season.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/team.cgi?id=7d25f8c5

    • 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.

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

        Very nice connection!

      • I don’t know what was in Al Campanis’s heart when he spoke the words that got him fired, but I’ve always thought there was some misinterpretation.

        George Vecsey touched on this in a recent NY Times column about L.A. Dodgers history. Here’s the crux:
        ———-
        Campanis was no racist. I sat with his dark-skinned Latino friends in his private box, and I often heard him talk about what good managers Roy Campanella and Jim Gilliam would have been, probably with the Dodgers.

        But then on live television, Al was asked why baseball had no black executives. You could see it in the ESPN feature, how he averted his eyes while searching for the word — experience? opportunities? — and came up with the word necessities. He was a 70-year-old from the old school, with no feel for the new media reality, speaking in his third language. And then he was gone.

        Don Newcombe, the great pitcher and still an adviser to the Dodgers, insisted Campanis “did not have a racist bone in his body.” Race never goes away, as anybody reading the front pages can tell.

      • “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.

    • Minor point, Neil: I’m not sure what your point was about Jackie traveling only as far south as Baltimore in 1946; anyway, while you might not think so from the map, Baltimore is in some ways a “southern city,” or at least has a foot in both worlds. Maryland, although it remained in the Union during the Civil War, did not ban slavery until 1864.

      According to this source, in 1910 “Baltimore enacted the first citywide law in the United States that mandated the segregation of each residential block.”

      This source says that when the Montreal club first visited Baltimore in 1946, “the Baltimore crowd which attended this series was abusive. Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s wife, attended the games and considered the racial taunts worse than those they had heard in Florida during spring training.”

      P.S. to Baltimoreans — It’s not my intention to disparage your lovely city. And we all know that racial segregation in the U.S. knows no geographic boundaries; and also that Jackie Robinson was not necessarily treated any better in northern cities than he was in Baltimore or Daytona.

      • My point, JA, was that it was fortuitous that the Dodgers’ farm team in 1946 was in the International League and not a league where the home parks had a lower latitude. Myabe that factored into Rickey’s decision to sign Robinson and have him spend a year in the minors.

        I didn’t realize, being a foreigner :-), that Baltimore, Maryland, was/is a Confederate city.

        Nice research to find the link documenting the Baltimore fans’ response.

        I have no evidence to support the belief that Jackie Robinson got a fair shake from crowds in Toronto or Montreal. However ….

        I am standing by my conviction that playing in an Upper-NY-State, Canadian league gave Jackie a more supportive environment than playing in the American Midwest or South.

        I hope I haven’t pushed any hot buttons with anyone on HHS by posting this. It is not intentional. I have learned the difficult way on B-Ref that history dies hard in the U.S.A!

        • Neil, I did not mean to contradict your valid point that the International League was about as “safe” a place as there was for Jackie to get his start in organized ball.

          And if I somehow gave you the idea that Baltimore was a Confederate city, then I must have erred badly. Maryland remained in the Union. And although that made them not subject to the Emancipation Proclamation, they did ban slavery via their state constitution in 1864. (Better late than never.)

          • Not at all, JA. Even with my country of origin, I knew Maryland was part of the North.

            Only Virginia had split allegiences. (Caveliers and Mountaineers, as I remember to my chagrin from last year)

            But I honestly thought that, so long after the Civil War, Baltimore would have been more enlightened in 1946, when Jackie came in with the visiting team.

          • Also, my “P.S. to Baltimoreans” was meant only to cover any possible misunderstanding of my own remarks. I certainly did not mean to give the impression that anything Neil said required an apology.

          • Maryland likely stayed with the Union because of all the troops around Washington. MLB, at least, was primarily a northern/midwestern organization. With Washington and St Louis being the farthest south and the only cities where slavery had been legal 100 years before. The IL was more northern than the NL, but so was the AA. Louisville was the most southern team there. Jersey City was the next most southern team in the IL. The third top minor league, the PCL, probably had cities with much less history of racial conflict than those further east in the other 2 leagues.

          • Neil – See my post below where I talk about Hank Aaron getting called racial names while playing in the Northern League. We’re talking about cities with almost no minority populations or ties to the civil war. I’m quite sure Duluth, MN or Aberdeen, SD were not hot beds of racial hatred or left over civil war hard feelings. Duluth Minnesota might as well be in Canada.

          • Timmy Pea-

            “Duluth Minnesota might as well be in Canada.”

            Geographically yes, but culturally “the iron range” where Duluth is located is quite different from most of the rest of the midwest. It’s a mining society much more like West Virginia and a port more like Baltimore or New Orleans than an agricultural society like most of the rest of the central and upper midwest.

            That’s not to say that Aaron (or Robinson) wouldn’t have encountered racism if they had played in Minneapolis or someplace like that but I’ve been to both Canada and the Duluth area many times and outside of the trees and the cold they don’t have a lot in common.

            And the fact that they both talk funny too, I guess.

          • Hartvig @65,

            Hey, watch it!

            Who’s talking “funny” is a relative thing isn’t it? :-)

          • Neil L

            Since I grew up in North Dakota and could have appeared in the movie “Fargo” without having to change my accent perhaps I’m in no position to talk.

          • LOL, Timmy! I’d agree with you- I’ve never been to Thunder Bay (Ontario), which, for “Dalootians” is the nearest town of any significance,- but I’ve had those who have been there, or even lived there, tell me that it is very similar to Duluth. In fact, Thunder Bay and Duluth are even officially “Sister Cit(ies)”. And, having been back out here a couple of years now, after 8 years in Duluth, it is kinda easy to guess who is here from Minnesota :)

          • Nash @78, my ol’ Minnesota Twins B-Ref buddy!! Are you back for good in HHS?

            Great to hear from ya!

        • This is from Jackie’s wikipedia page…

          In 2011, the U.S. placed a plaque at Robinson’s Montreal home to honor the ending of segregation in baseball.[258] The home is located at 8232 avenue de Gaspe south of rue de Guizot Est and near Jarry Park and close to Delorimier Stadium, where Robinson played for the Montreal Royals during 1946. In a letter read during the ceremony, Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, wrote: “I remember Montreal and that house very well and have always had warm feeling for that great city. Before Jack and I moved to Montreal, we had just been through some very rough treatment in the racially biased South during spring training in Florida. In the end, Montreal was the perfect place for him to get his start. We never had a threatening or unpleasant experience there. The people were so welcoming and saw Jack as a player and as a man.”

          • Thanks, Jason for copying that over. I’m sure Florida must have been rough for him that spring of 1946.

        • For the record there were other states with split allegiances during the civil war. The obvious 2 being Missouri and Kentucky. Some of the territories were up in the air also.

  5. 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?

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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 Case, and Snuffy Stirnweiss come to mind.

      • 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.

        • Mike, perhaps the “statistical” angle on that is simply the number of contemporary commentaries that gave the same description of Robinson’s impact within a game.

          • Thanks for mentioning that, bstar. There’s actually some good footage of that play on Youtube.

            Yogi Berra still swears that Robinson was out. From what we can see in the clip, I can’t be sure; it looks like Yogi had the ball in time, but still might not have made the tag before Jackie’s foot touched the plate.

            There was a little article I read recently — sorry, I can’t locate it — that described the author and Yogi taking a tour of the Yogi Berra Museum. As they pass a large photo of that play, without looking at it or changing his expression or tone, Yogi says simply, “He was out.” And they move on….

            (By the way, two innings before Robinson’s dash, Billy Martin tried to steal home and was called out. I can’t find any footage, though.)

          • 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.

      • 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 the war. Stirnweiss’ SB totals dropped after the war due to injuries.

  6. 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.

    • 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).

      • 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 ,and he was merely expressing the opinion of the owners, and the intergration of the armed services during WWII would have made the breaking of the color line inevitable.

    • Fair points, NSB. At the same time, many folks have tried to fill in the WAR gaps for DiMaggio, Williams, Feller, and many others who missed years in the service, I think it’s still fair to speculate about Robinson’s missed years.

      As far as his UCLA years are concerned, we might fairly question whether he would have even gone that route if MLB had not been segregated.

      Robinson turned 20 in January 1939. That same year, 20-year-old Ted Williams hit .327 with 31 HRs and led the majors with 145 RBI, while 20-year-old Bob Feller led the AL with 20 wins, 297 IP and 246 Ks. It’s not hard to imagine that Robinson could have been in the majors by 1939 and put in 3 or 4 seasons before he was drafted.

      • All interesting discussion, but baseball was Robinson’s “worst sport” in those years. I think, all things being equal, Robinson would have opted for football if not for all other circumstances in the way. That said, if he has been able to go to baseball, he very well could have been a major contributor at 20. However, if we go down the road of “what if the MLB was not segregated in the 1930s,” my mind gets racing as to what Gibson and Paige would have done…but that’s a discussion for some other day.

        Of course, I remember watching something (I want to say Ken Burns’s Baseball but that just seems ridiculous) that implied that if not for Robinson being “first” he would have just been a face in the crowd. Of course, statistically this doesn’t bear out but man, it bothers me.

        • VEJ, I don’t doubt that baseball was Jackie’s worst sport until he began focusing his attention on it. But mightn’t he have played more baseball as a youth if not for segregation?

          I don’t mean to take us down the path of “what if” for players who never got to play in the majors (Gibson) or only briefly (Paige).

          But Jackie played 10 seasons, and 5 of them were MVP-caliber. Three times he led all NL players in WAR, and his 1949 mark of 10.3 WAR remains the Dodgers franchise record. His one year in AAA, he led the league in BA, OBP and Runs, with a SO/BB ratio better than 3-1. This from a man who probably played less baseball as a youth than any other HOFer.

          I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that he could have had a few more good seasons had the door been opened sooner.

          • I definitely agree there. Robinson’s legend (probably) only would have grown if he had, say, three or four seasons tacked on at the beginning.

            I just like to speculate about all possibilities…call it the alternate historian in me.

  7. 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 to restore the balance by paying more attention to RS (scoring , is after all, the objective of the offense) . i think that skillful base running involves much more than stealing bases, including breaking up the DP, advancing on outs , scoring from second on a single etc. I have been messing with a fun stat called scoring average (RS-HR)/(h+BB+hbp-hr) basically scoring from the base paths divided by opportunities. Jackie’s .369 SA says very, very, good. Bill James points out that base running well requires intelligence and alertness , and that Jackie was by all accounts one of the most intelligent men to play the game.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

    • 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.

  10. I think it’s telling that, from 1949-51, in a lineup that was the offensive class of the NL (tops in R/G and in OPS+ all 3 years), with such sluggers as Snider, Campanella, Hodges and Furillo, it was Jackie who batted cleanup. He was also the cleanup man for most of 1953, when the Dodgers scored 6.2 R/G (I’ll guess that’s the highest NL mark since 1930) en route to a 105-49 record.

    Also, there are two passages in the BJHBA that are worth re-reading every year, one in his ranking of the all-time greats (justifying his placement of Robinson at #32), and another in the Bill Mazeroski player essay (about Jackie’s surprisingly good showing under the new defensive metrics).

    • JA, were the early 1950’s not the glory days of baseball over all time?

      I know that the owners held all the cards in those days, but was it not a kinder, gentler, more innocent time?

      Three NY teams, no ecomonic depressions, no world wars (the Korean War notwithstanding), monetary expansion in the U.S. and …. the Brooklyn Dodgers.

      (Relative) for its time big-money intruded by the late ’50’s when franchises were moved west.

      ~wipes a nostalgic tear from eye~ almost

      • Neil, you may be pulling my leg, but I’ll answer straight anyway:

        I can’t get nostalgic for a time I never experienced. And offsetting the notion of the early ’50s as a “more innocent time” is the fact that America became vastly more segregated in that period, as postwar prosperity fueled white flight from the cities to the suburbs.

        My personal “golden age” of baseball is the late ’70s to mid-’80s, but that may have more to do with my own age at the time than with any objective analysis. But I sure did like George Brett’s 1980 Strat-O-Matic card.

        • No, JA, I am not pulling your leg. I am dead serious.

          I did not experience the early 1950’s directly but it is recorded for me in old black-and-white photos and old, grainy, baseball video highlights.

          Baseball was NY-centric in those times but who cares. The Giants-Yankees-Dodgers rivalries both in the regular season and post-season, from second-hand accounts, have yet to be repeated.

          That was the age of baseball “heros”, long before free agency and playing for the highest bidder.

          In all earnestness, please correct me if I am wrong. Am I some kind of victim of MLB manipulation?

          • In the Fifties baseball was king, as in the previous decades of the century. For many if not most sports fans and athletes, football and basketball were what you did while you waited for the spring to come. That being said, the Fifties were the era of childhood trauma, not happy days. Two or three times a day there were public service announcements on your 11-inch TV advising of what to do in case of nuclear attack, plus air raid drills and confrontation with the Russians highlighting the news. A lot of people have blotted those things from memory.

          • Like all kids in the ’50s I was a baseball fan, In my case Detroit in Kaline’s glorious rookie season , back then, it was the job of sportswriters to build up the image of local heroes and never to write anything that would tarnish them; only after he retired did Mantle retroactively become a skirt-chasing drunk. What I am saying is that it was a world of make- believe, which the adults knew well enough was fake , but we kids took for real. Baseball was important, all the same, in a way it can never be again with so many entertainment and sporting choices.
            I am not nostalgic for it, but I hope that each generation of kids can live in a fake reality, at least part-time ,as they learn the skills to cope with real reality; I am glad for video games and when the other old farts (my contemporaries) start banging on about them I tell them to stuff it.
            In addition to baseball trading cards , we had aircraft trading cards Called “friend or foe” with pictures of Russian and American warplanes
            so we could tell them apart in the war that was surely coming.
            Back to the 50s? No thanks.

          • Bryan @50, good post to shatter some of my romantic notions about the 1950’s. I’m a little bit disconcerted by the assertion that sports media hid the clay feet of our baseball heros back then, so that they appeared larger than life.

            Perhaps you are right that there was a certain naivete in the general, baseball-ticket-buying public, but fake seems like a harsh word.

            As I read about it, there was a general optimism in American society about the future and this was reflected in people identifying passionately with their baseball stars. Far more than now, as I see it.

            But has posters have pointed out in this blog, there was an uncertainty and insecurity to everyday life as well, that counters the nostalgia.

          • An earlier version of this post was lost in the interweb yesterday. Baseball in the early 50’s was in bad shape. 1948 was the record year for attendance, and it kept on dropping from there. (The league numbers look better than they should after 1952, because of the teams that moved.) They were in old ball parks downtown with no parking, while fans were moving to the suburbs and buying cars. (Minor leagues were dying out.) Very few if any of the teams were fully integrated, many were still fully segregated. The media concentrated in NY loved that there was at least one NY team in the WS every year 1949-1958. With the Giants and Dodgers moving west and later the end of the Yanks hegemony nostalgia for the “golden era” grew. The game that Robinson entered, (and fortunately helped transform), was slow station-to-station baseball. The prototypical player of the era was perhaps Ralph Kiner. He took walks and hit HR’s, and did little else well. Jackie made the game more exciting then and later, but the game as he found it in 1947 was about as unexciting as high level baseball ever was. Baseball did not know how to compete in the new television age, and was in bad shape because of that as well as other reasons given above. I think belief that this was baseball’s greatest era is strong evidence of bias and idiocy. Rant ended.

          • kds @88, I have great respect for you as a knowledgable and intelligent poster in High Heat Stats,

            But I have to take exception to your characterization of anyone who disagrees with you about the 1950’s as being biased and guilty of idiocy.

            I have no bias, as far as I am aware, toward a particular era of baseball. My impression is formed by a lifetime of exposure to baseball sources.

            I’ve never played Stratomatic, but look at Shping’s post @91.

            So the right field wall in Ebbets’ Field, the Shot Heard Round the World, and “The Catch” are all constructs of a conspiracy to make us believe in a different reality than actually existed? Come on!

          • True enough. Actually, on the 1980 card he was surprisingly ordinary vs. LHPs.

        • Dang that Strat-o-matic! That’s actually why i’m so split on this issue.

          Yes, we tend to overglamorize the Golden 50s in many ways, and i’m as as guilty as anyone of that. It’s sometimes weird for me, for example, to explain to people how or why i’m a huge fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers, a team that ceased to exist a decade before i was born. And a large part of the reason for that is…

          That amazing ’53 Dodgers team was (and still is) a blast to play SOMatic with and really brought the era alive for me! Every 2-8, 2-9 or 2-10 HR on Duke Snider’s card, or occasional triple by Jackie, or reliable groundout to good ol Gil Hodges or Billy Cox (“1” fielders), etc, made me root for them like real people. Of course, devouring books that talked about Cox’s golden arm and the rest of the Boys of Summer, and Stengel and Mickey and Ike and so on, was helpful too.

          So because of all that, it actually is possible for me to be nostalgic about the Golden ’50s, even tho it was before my time. There was a lot to like. Rose-colored naievte and all.

          Of course, Stormin’ Gorman Thomas’ 2-11 and 2-12 hrs were pretty cool, too.

          • Shping, did you ever see the S-O-M set (was it 1984?) where they made the cards uniform, so that every hitter had his most stuff in the “1” column and every pitcher had the most stuff in the “4” column? Man, that was awful.

          • @97 — Yeah, i heard about that SOM mix-up but luckily never bought that set. Guess it would have been kinda like having all the girls in the bars fall for the same lines all the time — no challenge!

            Think I’ll have to play a Jamie Moyer game one of these days, just for ol’ times sake! Maybe i’ll have him face Satchel Paige or Warren Spahn, and see if i can throw in Minnie Minoso somehow.

      • Arguments why the {post-WWII to pre-expansion} days were _not_ the “glory days” of baseball:

        -the almost total domination of pennant winners by several teams, mostly the three NYC teams
        – only several other teams beyond the ones above were even contending for the pennant at any one time
        – MLB cities still confined _entirely_ to the same northeast part of the USA, entirely north and east of St Louis (although KC and Milwaukee spread the teams out a bit)
        – loss of many many minor league teams
        – attendance declining throughout this era, as both the ballparks and the urban areas they were located in aged and detoriorated,and the overall population shifted west and south
        -lack of free agency or any meaningful mechanism for players to change teams
        – strategically, the increasing dominance of a station-to-station style of playing that emphasized working walks and hitting HRs, at the expense of “inside baseball”, especially base stealing
        -MLB was not completely integrated the first time Jackie Robinson stepped on the field in 1947. Practically speaking, it took at least another two decades for MLB to be completely integrated.

        On the positive side:
        – Ted Williams and Stan Musial
        – Willie Mays and Micky Mantle (and the Duke)
        – Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews
        -“The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”

        Whenever someone asks “what was the ‘Golden Era’ of baseball”, my answer is “right now”.

        • To me, it is one of the more amazing stats in baseball team history that over the eight seasons from 1949 through 1956, 46 World Series games were played and every single one, without exception, was won by a New York City team.

          • Good or bad for baseball, birtelcom, objectively speaking? After all, it was the Big Apple, even then.

          • MLB attendance hit a record average of about 16,900 per game in 1948, just before the above-referenced string of total NYC post-season dominance. Attendance then declined repeatedly in the following years, dropping as low as about 11,600 a game in 1953 before climbing back a little bit from that trough to 13,300 a game by 1956, the last of the eight years NYC World Series domination. MLB attendance did not get back as high as the 1948 average of 16,900 per game until 1977. There might have been many causes of the drop in attendance after 1948, and there may be better ways to measure MLB’s popularity then average game attendance (for example, TV began to be an alternative way to watch baseball in the 1950s, though that may have hurt attendance at minor league more than major league games), but at the very least it doesn’t appear that New York City’s dominance was doing any good for major league baseball attendance nationwide.

  11. 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 were cast in anything but subservient roles on TV-Bill Cosby in “I Spy” and Greg Morris “Mission Impossible” were groundbreaking. My kids, who think an African American President is normal, wouldn’t recognize the world I went to college in (in the not exactly tolerant Baltimore of the 1970’s), much less what Robinson went through a generation before that. The idea that you could have segregated schools (and there were plenty after Brown as well as before) would be completely alien.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

    • The most prominent player who took an anti-Jackie stance was Dixie Walker, an established Dodgers star entering his twilight years. He had run 2nd in the NL MVP vote in 1946 at age 35.

      Walker is known to have written a letter to Branch Rickey asking to be traded. He is also judged responsible for the anti-Robinson petition that was circulated, which became the impetus for the Ford Frick quote.

      Some good context on Walker’s involvement can be found here.
      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/11/sports/baseball/11walker.html

    • Another leading antagonist was Ben Chapman, the manager of the Phillies, who led his team in some of the most vicious and offensive taunting and bench-jockeying at Robinson.

      • Great stuff JA. I’m sure there was plenty of ugliness to go around on the field for Robinson. I’m sure that for over half a century before Robinson, it was not just a baseball issue, it was a political issue as well. If I remember my history correctly, Truman had just integrated the Army and Navy about the same time Robinson was allowed to play. My point being there was plenty of blame to go around at the highest levels of government as well as baseball for a long time.

      • As for Bobby Bragan, he attended Branch Rickey’s funeral because he said, that Mr. Rickey made him a better person.

        He was of course talking about Jackie joining the Dodgers.

        This quote epitomizes how momentous the occassion was. Words
        can’t fully express this.

        All I know is that without Jackie maybe we don’t have Rosa Parks, Martin Luther the King, and even Barack Obama.

        Baseball is a great game that keeps on giving throughout our lives, and yet the greatest gift we ever received is not the enjoyment we get year after year from the game we love.

        The greatest gift is one that was given to this entire country 65 years ago.

        I am so proud that the game I love would help lead this country
        out of the darkness of racism and into the light of tolerance.

        • Not for anything, but I believe Jack Johnson, Dixie Kid, Sam Langford, and Joe Louis took a ton of shit 35 and 10 years before Robinson for the color of their skin….athletics and entertainment helped the white man finally accept the fact that these “people”, indeed, did possess the same traits as their white heroes and entertainers – talent.

          If it weren’t for the lessons those in power learned from watching blacks compete in athletics and entertainment, places like Wall Street, corporate America, and even Main Street would still be without black faces in positions of power.

          I get Robinson’s greatness, and thank God for it. But, I honestly see this display and outpouring of emotion on his behalf as something engendered out of Bud Selig’s marketing machine. Almost some type of embarrassed apologetic for the lack of front office hires and inability to garner popularity and market share in the inner city where hoops and football are 1 and 1A in a two-horse race. There certainly have to be a lot more Matt Kemp’s out there. Let’s hope they are inspired by Kemp and forego the other sports for the sake of entertainment aspect of baseball

          • Yes, as much as people wish to simplify the narrative, Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson did not integrate MLB entirell by themselves. As you eluded to above, there were people “laying the groundwork” for that for decades.

            What I would like to see on future April 15th celebrations, is the acknowledgement of the players that broke the color barrier on those teams besides the Dodgers.

            There were 15 other teams besides the Dodgers that also integrated, but you hear almost nothing about the particular players that integrated them (not that Robinson doesn’t deserve all the credit he has gotten, I just think it could be spread around a little more).

            I realize one of the main problems in doing this is that some of these pioneers didn’t really have significant MLB careers:
            Curt Roberts
            Tom Alston
            Nino Escalera
            Chuck Harmon
            Carlos Paula
            Ozzie Virgil, Sr.
            Pumpsie Green

          • There has to be a first time for everything, and Robinson’s singular accomplishment is that he was first, he was great, and he was great in a team sport-the preeminent team sport of the time. By being great, he showed the folk in owner’s boxes (who might have had their biases, but rarely when it came to business) that they could improve their teams without killing their box offices. He didn’t bring equality to baseball, nor did he end bias, but it was his first step, his style of play, his success, which pushed integration out of the token into the desirable in one giant leap.

    • 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. And Hank Aaron wasn’t going to be the one to change all of that.

      If it is any consolation, minor league(Independent) baseball continues to fail to gain traction there, after all these decades……call it the curse of Aaron?

  15. #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 period
    and
    – because the three NYC teams almost completely dominated this 1947 – 1960 era, those writers viewed this time period through rose-colored glasses

    No wonder they think this this period was “The Greatest Ever” for MLB. I guess it didn’t occur to them that if the three NYC teams have almost all the success, it isn’t that great for the success of MLB as a whole.

    • 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 the NY greater metropolitan area in those times still cheer for the Dodgers, Giants or Yankees even when they moved to different areas of the country. Wasn’t there sonething of a national following for the NY teams?

      I’m not trying to prolong a dead thread, but I believe there was an innocence in American society in the fifties, where Luci and Desi Arnez slept in separate beds and the public enjoyed Ozzie and Harriot (later, I know!) that it made it possible to believe that baseball players were all-American heros. And presidents and public elected officials were thought to be role models?

      I believe these things contribute to an objective sense that the fifties were the palmy days of baseball. Perhaps in the pre-Twitter age, fans’ impressions of their heros were shaped by the writers and broadcasters of the day. Perhaps the drinking exploits of Billy Martin, Mickey Mantle and others in the Copa were swept under the carpet by the media in the interests of their public images.

      However, please don’t prick my 1950’s baseball balloon!! :-) :-)

      “Whenever someone asks “what was the ‘Golden Era’ of baseball”, my answer is “right now”.”

      Lawrence, I have to assume you are being a bit flippant with that staement. Is the whole Barry Bonds-Mark McGwire-Rafael Palmeiro-Sammy Sosa regime, a golden era of baseball?

      • 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 have declined since, no matter what the field (not just sports, but also music, movies, TV, fashion…).

        However, if I do step back with some objectivity, I have to conclude that the current overall level of play of MLB is higher than it has ever been. That’s what I mean by “the Golden Era of baseball is NOW”. While there are several major negatives (PED controversies, pace of games), there have been major problems in MLB throughout its history. The gambling/game-fixing problems in the first two decades of MLB were far worse than almost anything that has happened within most of our memories.

        Pick any decade – better yet, read the BJNHA and look at his decade breakdowns; Bill James lists the problems quite succinctly.

        I think that the endless glorification of the NYC teams of the 1947-1960 is due to all the reasons I mentioned before, which could be summarized as “confirmation bias”. The writers point of view is “Hey, we were there, we saw first-hand how successful these teams were, so this era (1947-1960) HAS TO BE the greatest era ever for MLB.”

        Look, I know just how good these players and teams are, I just object to being lectured endlessly on how that era was BEYOND ANY DOUBT the greatest time and place ever for MLB baseball.

        • 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.

          • 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 they are condidered amongst the least qualified of the recently inducted HOFers…

  16. 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 across here, but it makes sense in my head…

    • Max, I’d like to get your point, but I’m not there.

      One thing that’s confusing me is the fact that although Clemente was a regular from age 20, he actually wasn’t much of a hitter for his first 5 years, with a .282 BA and an average of 5 HRs and 47 RBI, and an 89 OPS+. Then at age 25 he reached the next plateau and never came down.

  17. 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….

    • 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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