Before Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier
1:03 | MLB
Before Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier
William Nack
Wednesday April 15th, 2015

In the middle of the cool, drizzly afternoon of Sunday, May 25, 1947, as the Brooklyn Dodgers led the Philadelphia Phillies 4-3 in the eighth inning, Jackie Robinson ground his spikes into the rain-softened dirt of the batter's box at Ebbets Field, turned to face Phillies reliever Tommy Hughes and waited for Hughes's 3-and-1 cripple.

Forty days had passed since Robinson donned a Dodgers uniform and became the first black man in this century to play in the majors, going 0 for 3 in his debut at Ebbets on April 15. In recent games the 28-year-old rookie had begun to evince signs of settling down and playing the crisp, commanding brand of ball that Branch Rickey, the Dodgers' president, had predicted of him. "You haven't seen the real Robinson yet," Rickey had been telling writers all spring. "Just wait."

Through his first 30 big league games, played in six National League cities, the rookie had alternately struggled and soared, at times performing brilliantly at first base (a position new to him that year) but often pressing at the plate. Of course, Robinson had also been the target of racial epithets and flying cleats, of hate letters and death threats, of pitchers throwing at his head and legs, and catchers spitting on his shoes. In the midst of all this bristling animus, there was a circuslike quality to Dodgers games, with Robinson on display like a freak; with large crowds, including many blacks, lustily cheering even his dinkiest pop-ups; and with the daily papers singling him out as the "black meteor," the "sepia speedster," the "stellar Negro," the "muscular Negro," the "lithe Negro" and "dusky Robbie."

"More eyes were on Jackie than on any rookie who ever played," recalls Rex Barney, a Brooklyn reliever that year. It was a wonder, as he endured the mounting pressure of his first weeks in the bigs, that Robinson could perform at all. Yet perform he did, putting together a 14-game hitting streak in the first 2 1/2 weeks of May. By May 25, with the first extended road trip behind him and the novelty of his presence on the wane, Robinson was sensing what he later called a "new confidence" in his game. As he took the field that day against the Phillies--who, led by their Southern-born manager, Ben Chapman, had lacerated him with taunts of "nigger" and "black boy" from the dugout during their first series in April--Robinson had begun to feel, as he would put it, "some of the old power returning."

In the fourth inning, with the Dodgers down 2-0 and their shortstop, Pee Wee Reese, on first, Robinson lashed a single to right center off Phillies starter Dick Mauney. Moments later Reese and Robinson raced home when Dodgers centerfielder Pistol Pete Reiser crashed a double off the left-centerfield wall. Two innings after that, with Reese again on first and Hughes now pitching, Robinson reached for a fastball and lined a single to left. Reese later scored when Hughes balked him home from third.

Jackie Robinson's debut: Dodgers, and baseball, win on long-awaited day

Having been at the center of the rallies that gave Brooklyn that tenuous one-run lead in the eighth, Robinson now dug in against Hughes and worked the count to 3 and 1. Hughes delivered a fastball high in the strike zone, fat as a melon, and Robinson turned all his 195 pounds into it, striking the ball harder than he had struck one all spring. Dick Young, the Dodgers' beat reporter for the New York Daily News, mixed jazz with golf in search of a simile to describe the blast, rhapsodizing that the ball left home plate "like something out of Louis Armstrong's trumpet. It started on a low line, took off suddenly like a golf drive and zoomed far back into the lower leftfield deck."

The Dodgers won 5-3, and contemporary accounts viewed the game as Robinson's breakthrough in that young season, fulfilling Rickey's prophesy that when the real Robinson at last arrived, he would be worth all the waiting. No one on that afternoon in May appeared more relieved than Burt Shotton, the Dodgers' manager. "He has finally become relaxed and is playing the kind of ball that earned him his major league chance," Shotton said. "Until today we just couldn't get him to take a normal cut at the cripples they were getting him out on. Time after time we gave him signals to hit the 3-and-1 pitch, but very often he didn't even swing. Guess he had too much on his mind."

Despite all he had on his mind, despite all he had endured during the early days of that long season, it had grown clear by mid-May that Robinson, even a struggling Robinson, was in the Brooklyn lineup to stay. "The guy just had too much talent," says Reese, "and too much guts." Indeed, Robinson had won over teammates and opponents alike during his 14-game hitting streak, which was all the more impressive because it was a direct response to a horrible slump that would have finished lesser men in his situation.

As Robinson nursed an old college football injury to his right shoulder, he went 0 for 20 between April 23 and April 30, which dropped his average from .444 to .225 and prompted talk that he ought to be benched. "He should be given a rest in view of his ailing right arm and slump-pressing at the plate," Young wrote in the May 1 Daily News, "but the Dodger powers appear reluctant to bench him for attendance and possible public relations reasons." Young was not sympathetic to Robinson in those days, and he wasn't the only doubter among baseball writers.

"Right now Jackie Robinson doesn't shape up as a first baseman," wrote Pat Lynch of the New York Journal American. "His weak hitting is something the shrewd assayers of baseball talent have been on to all along."

The more sympathetic writers offered an alternative solution to Robinson's problems at the plate: bunt. In The New York Sun of May 1, under the headline ROBINSON'S JOB IN JEOPARDY, Herbert Goren urged the rookie to start laying the ball down: "In Robinson's case, a deep sense of pride is getting the call over common sense. Jack wants to prove in the big leagues that he is not a leg hitter....Yet he is one of the best bunters in baseball. His former manager, Clay Hopper of Montreal [where Robinson played minor league ball the year before], said he believed Robinson could bunt .260 even if he tried nothing else."

In fact, as Robinson would soon admit, Rickey had been pushing him to bunt the ball as a way of restoring his confidence at the plate, but Robinson did not want to give his many detractors further cause for disparaging his play and spreading doubt about him as a major leaguer. "Mr. Rickey wants me to lay it down more," Robinson told Harold Burr of the Brooklyn Eagle, "but I don't want to bunt my way through the National League. That's what they said about me at Montreal last year, and I want to live that reputation down."

The chief cause for hope that Robinson would break out of his slump was that he was hitting the ball hard--though mostly at someone. On April 30, after the 3-1 loss to the Cubs at Ebbets Field, Shotton said he had thought about benching Robinson but then decided to let him work out of his difficulties at the plate. "There's no reason to get all excited," Shotton said, "no reason to panic."

Though he became best known as a second baseman, Jackie Robinson spent his entire rookie year at first base.

On May 1 the New York Post's Arch Murray, perhaps Robinson's most ardent supporter in the local press corps, reported seeing signs in the loss to the Cubs that the rookie was emerging from his slump: "He hit two balls as if they'd been shot out of a gun--one that smacked into [pitcher] Doyle Lade's upflung glove and another smash that Peanuts Lowrey dug out of the dirt at third. [Robinson] refuses to get down because he's not hitting....'But,' he admitted ruefully last night, 'I'd sure like to get some base hits.'"

Those late April days in '47 would remain the most trying in Robinson's professional life, and the deepening pain was evident on the man's face. "You'd look at him and you knew he was pressing and pushing," Barney, the former reliever, recalls. "He had all that other stuff on his mind. He worked hard to break out of that slump. If we had a night game at eight o'clock, Jackie would be at the ballpark at 10 the next morning to take batting practice. If a pitcher got him out on a slow curve, he would have [Dodgers coach Clyde] Sukeforth throw him slow curves until Jackie's hands blistered. I saw this. He just worked so hard! He could not let himself down. He could not let his race down. He couldn't let anybody down."

No sooner had the alarms been set off by suggestions that the rookie be benched than Robinson was standing in the batter's box at Ebbets Field in the first inning on May 1, facing Bob Chipman of the Cubs. With one slash of the bat, on a pitch hard and in, Robinson made his way into the next day's headline in the New York Herald Tribune: ROBINSON SNAPS HIS BATTING SLUMP WITH TWO-BAGGER. The collar was off, at last.

Because of rain the Dodgers did not play their next game until May 6 at Ebbets Field. Brooklyn beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-6 as Robinson stroked two singles, one of which contributed to a three-run rally in the sixth. On May 7, in a 2-1 loss to the Cards, Robinson singled in the third inning and in the ninth was robbed of at least a double. According to Gus Steiger of the New York Daily Mirror, St. Louis centerfielder Terry Moore raced toward left "to make a brilliant catch of Jackie Robinson's searing liner."

But Shotton was despairing over Robinson's failure to attack hitter's pitches, and never more so than in the seventh inning of that game. With the bases loaded, one out and the Cards leading 2-0, Robinson worked the count from Howie Pollet to 3 and 1. Then he froze and watched the next pitch whistle by.

"Jackie looked at the only fat pitch Pollet threw all afternoon," lamented Shotton after the game. "A fastball. He let that go and he went after the change..." and bounced into a double play. The Dodgers hit into four double plays that afternoon, but, Shotton muttered, "Robinson's was the killer."

On May 8, in a 5-1 loss to the Cards, Robinson extended his hitting streak to four games, but other screws were tightening on him. The next morning the sports editor of the Herald Tribune, Stanley Woodward, broke a story that the president of the National League, Ford Frick, had headed off a players' strike aimed at forcing Robinson out of the game. The story said the revolt had been instigated by "certain St. Louis players," though none were identified by name, and had been quashed when Frick warned that he would suspend every player involved.

"I do not care if half the league strikes," Woodward paraphrased Frick as saying. "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 [league] will go down the line with Robinson whatever the consequences. You will find if you go through with this...that you have been guilty of complete madness."

The Strike Zone
Reminders of Jackie Robinson's resonance in Brooklyn and beyond

Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer denied that there was a strike brewing, although reports of one appeared in newspapers nationwide, and if the controversy had any ill effect on Robinson, it was not apparent in his play. On May 9 in Philadelphia, in his first game outside New York City, the rookie, "playing under mounting pressure, experienced the best day of his young major league career," Bill Roeder of the New York World-Telegram wrote. The Dodgers lost 6-5, but Robinson kept his team in the game until the end. He not only singled and doubled and scored two runs, running his hitting streak to five games, but also, as Michael Gaven of the Journal American reported, he "made two amazing saves on low throws and executed the best play of his short career [at first]." In the ninth inning, with the Phillies' Lee Handley on first, Robinson raced in to catch Emil Verban's popped bunt, whirled toward first and threw a strike to double Handley.

The "mounting pressure" cited by Roeder included the news, revealed to the press on May 9, that police were investigating letters that had threatened Robinson's life. "He turned them over to me," announced Rickey. "Two of the notes were so vicious that I felt they should be investigated."

The pressure also involved Robinson's lodging when the Dodgers arrived in Philly. The players usually stayed at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, but when they arrived there the hotel manager turned them away, telling the team's traveling secretary, Harold Parrott, "Don't bring your team back here while you have any Nigras with you!" The Dodgers ended up staying at the Warwick. Parrott later wrote that Robinson looked pained over the incident, "knowing we were pariahs because of him."

In the midst of such turmoil, Robinson soldiered on. "I'm just going along playing the best ball I know and doing my best to make good," he told Murray. "Boy, it's rugged."

Earlier that spring Robinson had struggled to make the switch from second base to first, the only position the Dodgers had open at the time. "They just handed him a first baseman's glove," says Barney. "And he had never played first base! He took it, and he never said a word, never complained."

Not surprisingly, at the beginning of the season Robinson had looked tentative at first base. On ground balls between first and second, he was unsure of what to do--cover first and let the second baseman field the ball, or field the ball and let the pitcher cover the bag. "A lot of times," recalls Clyde King, then a Brooklyn pitcher, "Jackie would break for the ball when the second baseman was there to grab it. And then he'd have to make the difficult throw to the pitcher. But Jackie learned quickly."

The night of May 9 Rickey gave Robinson what some saw as a vote of confidence by selling the Dodgers' backup first baseman, Howie Schultz, to the Phillies for $50,000. The next day Rickey announced that he would also give up the aggressive campaign he had been waging to acquire the New York Giants' power-hitting first baseman, Johnny Mize. "We'll be all right," Rickey said. "I don't have the slightest doubt of Robinson's ability. He is finding his way around first base and hitting with more confidence."

On May 10, in a 4-2 win over the Phillies at Shibe Park, Robinson hit in his sixth consecutive game, cracking a waist-high pitch for a single to left in the eighth inning. By then the purported strike had turned Robinson into an even more sympathetic figure and had moved the New York Post's Jimmy Cannon to ask that Robinson "be judged by the scorer's ledger and not by the prejudices of indecent men." Cannon also wrote, for the ages, "It is my belief that Robinson is a big leaguer of ordinary ability."

And yet, however wildly he misjudged the rookie's talent, Cannon was the only writer in New York to glimpse the poignance of Robinson's life as a Dodger: "In the clubhouse Robinson is a stranger. The Dodgers are polite and courteous with him, but it is obvious he is isolated by those with whom he plays. I have never heard remarks made against him or detected any rudeness where he was concerned. But the silence is loud and Robinson never is part of the jovial and aimless banter of the locker room. He is the loneliest man I have ever seen in sports."

On May 11 the Dodgers dropped both ends of a Sunday doubleheader at Shibe, but Robinson's single in the opener ran his hitting streak to seven games, and another single in the second game gave him eight in a row. By then the Phillies' dugout was no longer riding Robinson with racially abusive language—Frick and baseball commissioner Happy Chandler had warned sternly against it, telling the players to keep their jibes "above the belt"—and Dodgers second baseman Eddie Stanky, unable to resist, was needling the Phillies for the tameness of their taunts.

"That's right," Stanky yelled from the dugout. "Talk to him nice, you guys!"


Robinson tried to ignore the black cat that a spectator turned loose on the field before the first game, and at Rickey's urging he had reluctantly posed for the cameras with his chief tormentor, Chapman. The Philly manager had come under widespread criticism for the vulgar, biting slurs with which he and his men had attacked Robinson in April, and his job was in jeopardy.

For Chapman's pitchers, however, Robinson remained a target. Ken Raffensberger, a Philly starter at the time, remembers a pitchers' meeting that Chapman called early in the '47 season. "He told us that if we got two strikes on [Robinson] early [in the count] and didn't throw at him or knock him down, it's a $50 fine. That was just for Robinson. I told Chapman, 'I've never thrown at anybody in my life, and I'm not starting now.' I avoided the fine by not throwing strikes to him on my first pitches."

Robinson was a source of controversy everywhere. Chapman got the thumb in the second game of the May 11 doubleheader over an incident involving the rookie. Robinson, attempting to bunt, got hit in the stomach with the ball, and umpire George Barr waved him to first. Chapman came hurtling out of the dugout in protest, arguing that Robinson had left the box and had been hit as he crossed the plate. "Barr refused to concur," wrote Young in the Daily News, "and many fans shouted accusations from the stands to the effect that the ump might be a little short on the courage necessary to make such a decision."

Robinson was at the center of a maelstrom in the national pastime, performing under burdens never carried by another ballplayer, but he had promised Rickey that he would not fight back for at least two years. He endured the most humiliating treatment with a poised and gentlemanly grace. Throughout the season he wrote a column for The Pittsburgh Courier, a black weekly, and while he was seething within, those columns read like the letters that soldiers at the front send home to their anxious mothers, avoiding any hint of the conflict in their midst.

"I've been a pretty busy fellow the past week," began one column in mid-May. "Between trying to play big league baseball and answering all kinds of questions about alleged strikes and threatening letters, I haven't had much time to do anything else. However, as things are going now, I guess I haven't anything to worry about." Oh, yes, there was that heckling he took from Chapman and his boys at Ebbets Field, but he and Chapman had smiled together for the cameras. "Chapman impressed me as a nice fellow," Robinson wrote, "and I don't think he really meant the things he was shouting at me the first time we played Philadelphia." And, gee, those threatening letters? "I admit that I've received some, but by the way they were written I would say they're from scatterbrained people who just want something to yelp about."

Back home on May 12, in an 8-3 win over the Boston Braves, Robinson was all over the box score, and writers began to note the number of games in which he had hit safely. Wrote Goren, "He singled in the second to run his hitting streak to nine games. He was hit by a pitched ball, walked and sacrificed. He stole two bases. It was the first real exhibition of his speed. Robinson now has scored 20 runs. He leads the league."

Robinson would steal 29 bases in 1947, tops in the National League, but he was hesitant on the base paths at first, taking short leads off the bag, and he did not really start galloping until mid-May. But even before that, his skill and quickness made him a disruptive force when he got on base. Against the Braves on May 12, according to Roscoe McGowen of The New York Times, "Robinson's skill on the bases helped set up the first two runs of the game. Jackie came so far off third on [Dixie] Walker's grounder to [first baseman Earl] Torgeson that he drew the throw, with the result that everybody was safe."

The Strike Zone
Reminders of Jackie Robinson's resonance in Brooklyn and beyond

"In all my 53 years in baseball, Jackie was the best base runner I've ever seen," says King, the Dodgers pitcher who went on to manage in the big leagues and is now a New York Yankees scout. "I'm not talking about base stealing or speed on the bases but instinct. It was there that first spring training. I'll never forget how he would be on first base, and there would be a base hit to leftfield, and he'd take a big turn around second, and the leftfielder would throw behind him into second. He'd keep going and trot into third. It took time around the league before the leftfielders realized that Jackie was suckering them. We'd sit on the bench and just laugh."

On May 13, in Brooklyn's 7-5 loss to the Reds in Cincinnati, Robinson smashed a single in the ninth, scoring fellow rookie Duke Snider, and ran his hitting streak to 10 games. Before the game Shotton had told the Post's Murray that Robinson "has more heart under heavy pressure than any ballplayer I ever saw." Robinson had been drawing large and enthusiastic crowds to Dodgers road games. He helped bring a record 41,660 fans to the Sunday doubleheader in Philly, many of them literally hanging from the rafters at Shibe, and 27,164 to Cincinnati's Crosley Field on the night of May 13. Of the Crosley fans, according to press reports, as many as 9,000 were black. Scores of spectators that day had come from cities as far south as Birmingham and Atlanta, many arriving by train at Cincinnati's Union Terminal, others pulling into town in buses and cars bearing Tennessee and Kentucky plates. "Many in the crowd...were Brooklyn fans," wrote Roeder, "or, to be specific, Jackie Robinson fans."

The Dodgers had become a traveling road show, and in May, as attendance soared wherever Robinson played, the Pittsburgh Courier's sports editor, Wendell Smith, penned this ditty:

Jackie's nimble, Jackie's quick, Jackie's making The turnstiles click

There were black faces all around Crosley Field that first night of the Dodgers-Reds series. Robinson had often expressed the fear that blacks in the crowds at his games, as energetic as they were, might one day do something that would embarrass him. Brooklyn pitcher Ralph Branca recalls that on that first trip to Cincinnati, he sat in the dugout and saw black hands and arms reach out to Robinson as he returned to the Dodgers' bench. "He had popped up, and all the blacks were screaming and shrieking, and he got upset with them," Branca says. "He said, 'Be quiet! Behave yourselves. I only popped up!'"

But Robinson also suffered racial insults in Cincinnati, and they took all forms, even musical. At the end of that May 13 game, as the crowds clambered for the exits and the players walked down the leftfield line toward the tunnel leading to their clubhouses, the Crosley organist started playing Bye Bye, Blackbird. Gabe Paul, then the Reds' traveling secretary, says he nearly keeled over when he heard the music. "I was shocked," he says. "Somebody must have put [the organist] up to it."

According to John Murdough, then the Reds' ticket manager, Paul flew into a rage, yelling, "Get rid of that guy! Get him out of here. This is a disgrace. We'll never live it down!"

At least in Cincinnati, unlike in Philly, there was no trouble over Robinson at the Dodgers' hotel. Young praised the establishment in the New York Daily News: "Magnolias to the Netherland-Plaza, which accepted Robinson's registration here with the rest of the Brooks, right on the South's borderline, too."

On May 14, in a 2-0 loss to the Reds at Crosley, the Dodgers mostly waved at Ewell Blackwell's pitching, but Robinson extended his hitting streak to 11 games by beating out a roller to second, then ripping a solid single to center. While his team had lost seven of its eight games on the road, Robinson was hitting at a .406 clip away from Ebbets Field, and Murray gloated, "He is stilling the reactionary tongues in the rival press boxes. Anti-Robinson feeling was particularly noticeable in the press coop at Cincinnati."


Among the converted local skeptics was Lou Smith, who covered the Reds for the Cincinnati Enquirer and who wrote on the eve of the May 13 game that Robinson was no lock to stay at first base. " no Dolph Camilli in the field," Smith wrote, referring to an earlier Dodgers first baseman. Had Robinson not been the first Negro in the major leagues and the focus of so much attention, Smith wrote, "he would have been benched a week or two ago." The next day, in quick reverse, Smith was telling readers that he had learned that Robinson "is a cinch to stick with the Dodgers" and "has already mastered all the fine points of playing the bag. Jackie is not an overpowering hitter, but he hits the ball hard. His line drive to Eddie Lukon in the fifth was one of the hardest hit balls in the game." After Blackwell tossed his shutout, Smith noted that "Robinson was the only Dodger to get more than one safety off Blackie's blazing fastball and exploding curve."

The winds were shifting for Robinson on the road. On May 15 in Pittsburgh, during a 7-3 loss to the Pirates, he went 2 for 5 to stretch his streak to 12. In the third inning, after Robinson laid down a bunt, the Pirates' Hank Greenberg, stabbing at the pitcher's rushed and wild throw to first, accidentally crashed into Robinson as he raced across the bag. The rookie was sent sprawling. Robinson singled in the seventh, and as he stood on first base, according to the Pittsburgh Courier, Greenberg asked if he was all right. "Hope I didn't hurt you," Greenberg said. "I was trying to get that wild throw....I tried to keep out of your way but it was impossible."

"I was just knocked off balance," Robinson replied.

Greenberg, a New York-born Jew who had come up with Detroit in 1933, had known the sting of ethnic slurs, and Robbie sensed at once the empathy of a man who had fought the same battle years before. Greenberg asked him how things were going, and Robinson said, "Pretty good, but it's plenty rough up here."

Greenberg said he understood. "You're a good ballplayer, and you'll do all right," the future Hall of Famer told the future Hall of Famer. "Just stay in there...and always keep your head up."

The next day, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Vince Johnson wrote that the Pirates' Ralph Kiner had hit two home runs and Billy Cox had hit one, "but they had to share the applause of the 13,000 fans with Jackie Robinson, a ballplayer who has what it takes."

Pittsburgh was the warmest port Robinson had been in yet. On May 16 he went 2 for 4 in a 3-1 Dodgers victory over the Pirates, and the next day he stroked two more singles in a 4-0 loss, extending his hitting streak to 14 games and raising his batting average to .299. More important, Robinson could feel his teammates circling closer around him. On May 17, when Pittsburgh pitcher Fritz Ostermueller nearly beaned him with a rising fastball--it struck Robinson's arm as he jerked it up to shield his head--the Dodgers in the dugout rose to their feet, gathered on the steps and peppered Ostermueller with threats and profanity. In the May 24 Pittsburgh Courier, Robinson's closest friend among the writers, Wendell Smith, wrote, "It was then that they displayed, probably for the first time, that they regard him as one of them."

Julian Allen

It was in Pittsburgh, recalls Barney, that one of the Dodgers' most respected leaders, Branca, tried to rally the team around Robinson. For weeks Reese had been quietly urging his teammates to get behind the rookie, but it was Branca who called the first meeting for that purpose. Robinson was not present. "We have to get behind Jackie to help him," Branca said. "They're all on him. He's gonna be here. He's here to stay. And he's gonna help us win the pennant."

That was prophetic. On May 18, before 46,572 people, the largest paying crowd ever to see a baseball game in Chicago's Wrigley Field, Robinson went hitless in four at bats, ending his streak, but the Dodgers rallied in the seventh inning to defeat the Cubs 4-2. Brooklyn was on its way to beating St. Louis in the race for the National League pennant, and Robinson, who would end his first season hitting .297, was on track to win the majors' first Rookie of the Year award. The crowds and Robinson's fellow big leaguers were beginning to learn what kind of player he could be. Certainly the Phillies were learning faster than any other team.

"Robinson was one ballplayer you didn't want to get riled up," recalls Andy Seminick, then the Phillies' catcher. "Something about certain players: Get 'em mad and they'd hurt you. Jackie Robinson was definitely one of 'em. He rose to the occasion and clobbered the tar out of us. He beat us everywhere--at bat, on the bases, in the field. Finally Ben Chapman said, 'Let's lay off him. It's not doing any good.'" By the end of May, during that series at Ebbets Field, the Phillies were poking fun at Chapman, who hailed from Alabama, on the subject of Robinson. Philadelphia outfielder Del Ennis had singled and was standing on first base when he heard Robinson singing and humming to himself.

"What was he singing?" Chapman asked Ennis when he returned to the bench.

Ennis did not miss a beat or crack a smile. "Alabama Lullaby," he said.

It was during that series, of course, that Robinson climbed on Hughes's cripple and drove it into the seats for his second big league home run. As Robinson started toward first, Hughes angrily threw his glove in the air. And third baseman Handley, taking a new ball from Seminick, wound up and threw the ball and his mitt to the ground. The 18,016 customers at Ebbets Field roared as Robinson crossed home plate and headed for the bench.

There, on the dugout steps, the white hands reached for the black.

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