Thursday, April 15, 2021

Scores On This Historic Day: April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson's Debut

April 15, 1947: Opening Day at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers of Major League Baseball's National League. The Dodgers take the field with this lineup: 

12 2B Eddie Stanky
42 1B Jackie Robinson
7 CF Pete Reiser
11 RF Fred "Dixie" Walker
22 LF Gene Hermanski
10 C Bruce Edwards
21 Johnny "Spider" Jorgensen
1 SS Harold "Pee Wee" Reese
19 P Joe Hatten

This lineup is unusual. In fact, for most baseball fans, it is completely unprecedented: Robinson is black, the 1st member of his race to appear in an MLB game in 63 years. Dodger president and part-owner Branch Rickey had decided that the timing was right to desegregate the game.

Some of the Southerners on his team, included Stanky and Walker, objected. Both would be gone before the 1948 season began, and Robinson would be moved to his more familiar position of 2nd base.

The Dodgers played the Boston Braves, whose starting pitcher that day was Johnny Sain. In the bottom of the 1st inning, Jackie grounded out to 3rd base. In the 3rd, he flew out to left. In the 5th, he grounded into a double play: Shortstop to 2nd base to 1st base.

But Stanky led off the bottom of the 7th with a walk. Jackie was told to bunt, and he did. Braves 1st baseman Earl Torgeson fielded it, and made a bad throw to Sain, who was trying to cover 1st base. Jackie made it to 2nd on the error, Stanky to 3rd. Reiser then doubled both of them home.

So Jackie finished the game 0-for-3, but scored what turned out to be the winning run. He also fielded 11 chances without an error, despite never having played 1st base prior to that season's Spring Training. The final score: Dodgers 5, Braves 3.

The season would be more difficult for Jackie, and the racist abuse far worse, than anyone could have prepared him for. But he held it together, batted .297, won the NL's Rookie of the Year award, and the Dodgers won the Pennant. Rickey's "Great Experiment" worked, and there was no turning back: Baseball was now a game for any boy, regardless of race. (Still not for girls, though, despite the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League still being in business for another few years.)

Other MLB games played on this epochal Tuesday:

* The New York Yankees lost to the Philadelphia Athletics, 6-1 at the original Yankee Stadium. Spud Chandler did not have it for the Pinstripes that afternoon, and was outpitched by Phil Marchildon. Eddie Joost had 3 hits and an RBI for Connie Mack's A's.

* The Philadelphia Phillies beat the New York Giants, 4-3 at Shibe Park in Philadelphia.

* The Boston Red Sox beat the Washington Senators, 7-6 at Fenway Park in Boston.

* The Chicago White Sox beat the Cleveland Indians, 2-0 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

* The Cincinnati Reds beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-1 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.

* The Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs, 1-0 at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

* And the Detroit Tigers beat the St. Louis Browns, 7-0 at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis.


April 15, 1947 was also the day of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, played at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. An overtime goal by team Captain Syl Apps gave the Toronto Maple Leafs a 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Four days later, the Leafs would win Game 6 and take the Cup. This would be the last year of the "cigar-shaped," or "elephant leg" version of the Cup: The following season would see the debut of the "barrel-shaped" Cup that has been used ever since.
Syl Apps with the 1947 Stanley Cup

The NBA, then still in its 1st season and known as the Basketball Association of America, began its Finals the very next day -- which also turned out to be a New York-based beginning for another African-American sports legend. Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. was born in Manhattan. He became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

At any rate, the BAA's Eastern Division Champions were the Philadelphia Warriors, and its Western Division Champions were the Chicago Stags. The Warriors won Game 1 at the Convention Hall of the Philadelphia Civic Center, 84-71. They also won Game 2 there, 85-74.

The series moved out to the Chicago Stadium, but the Stags weren't much luckier, as the Warriors won Game 3, 75-72. The Stags avoided the sweep by the narrowest of margins, winning Game 4 at home, 74-73. On April 22, back in Philly, the Warriors won 83-80, and took what is now recognized as the 1st NBA Championship.
The 1947 Philadelphia Warriors

The Stags made the Playoffs again in 1948, 1949 and 1950, but lost money every year, and folded in 1950.

The Warriors also won the NBA Championship in 1956. George Senesky, a player on their '47 titlists, coached the '56 edition. They moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1962, and changed their name from "San Francisco Warriors" to "Golden State Warriors" upon moving to Oakland in 1971. Although they moved back to San Francisco in 2019, they have kept the "Golden State" name.

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