White Sox

White Sox

100 years ago today, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia. 

Jackie is one of three players in MLB history born in Cairo, Georgia. The other two are Ernie Riles and his nephew - former White Sox utility man Willie Harris. 

That is a very minor connection between Jackie Robinson and Chicago. There are definitely a number of major connections between Jackie and the Windy City and I will dig in to some of these here.

In June 1920, after her husband abandoned the family, Mallie Robinson took her five children, including one-year old Jack, and headed across the country to Pasadena, California. Young Jack attended Muir High School in Pasadena, then Pasadena Junior College before moving on to UCLA.

On March 13, 1938, the White Sox, who held spring training in Pasadena from 1933-52 (excluding a three-year hiatus during World War II) faced a team of Pasadena semi-pros. The box score from the Chicago Tribune the next day showed in the leadoff spot for the local team: Rob'son, ss. "Rob'son" of course was Jack Robinson. He went 2-for-5. There are conflicting reports on what this Pasadena team actually was. Some sources say it was the Pasadena Junior College team. Other sources call this team the Pasadena Sox, a racially-mixed amateur team which was sponsored by the White Sox.

From Arnold Rampersad's book Jackie Robinson - a Biography

"After his second hit of the game, he stole second base almost impudently against the White Sox catcher Mike Tresh. In the next inning, after his superb stop of a smash by Luke Appling, the American League batting champion, he started a brilliant double play to snuff out a White Sox threat. A reporter heard Jimmy Dykes, the White Sox manager, declare: 'Geez, if that kid was white I'd sign him right now.'"

 

For the 19-year old Robinson, it was very likely his first brush with Major League baseball.

On March 18, 1942, Robinson and pitcher Nate Moreland showed up at Brookside Park, the Pasadena spring home of the White Sox and requested a tryout. Herman Hill, west coast correspondent of the Pittsburgh Courier, claimed that he accompanied the two men to the field. Here they met with White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes. And here's where the details get murky.

The Chicago Tribune's William Hageman wrote in March 1997, ahead of the 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut in the Majors:

"Dykes and his staff let them go through the motions, knowing full well the whole effort was an exercise in futility."

Meanwhile, Neil Lanctot, in his book Negro League Baseball - The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution says:

"Dykes recognized the skills of both men, but nevertheless declined to offer a tryout, repeating the familiar excuse that it was "strictly up to the club owners and Judge Landis to start the ball a-rolling."

Later, the Pittsburgh Courier's Hill noted that Dykes "refused to pose for pictures with Jackie and Nate" and "several White Sox players hovered around menacingly with bats in their hands."

Unfortunately, Chicago had to wait another nine years for its first black Major Leaguer (Minnie Minoso in 1951).

Fast forward a few years later and Robinson found himself at the regular season home of the White Sox.

On July 29, 1945, Jackie made his lone appearance in the annual East-West All-Star Game; the Negro League equivalent to the MLB All-Star Game. He played shortstop and batted second, going 0-for-5 while representing the Negro National League's Kansas City Monarchs.

Despite his unsuccessful day at the plate, he did draw rave reviews for his defensive play. Fay Young of the Chicago Defender remarked:

"Orchids to Alex Radcliffe of the Cincinnati Clowns and Jackie Robinson of Kansas City..."

"...Robinson hustled over behind second in the ninth inning blitz by the East, dug a nasty hard grounder off the bat of Rogelio Linares of the New York Cuban Stars, out of the dirt and rifled it over to Ware for the final out of the 1945 game."

He wouldn't remain in the Negro Leagues for long. And Chicago was the setting of a critical moment in Jackie Robinson's path to the Majors.

The legendary Brooklyn executive Branch Rickey had his eye on Jackie Robinson; a year earlier he had sent scout Tom Greenwade to watch him play.

This time, less than a month after the 1945 East-West Game, Branch Rickey dispatched scout Clyde Sukeforth to Comiskey Park with the orders not to come back without Robinson. 

 

Sukeforth wanted to see what kind of an arm the Kansas City shortstop possessed, but unfortunately Robinson was nursing a bad shoulder and was out of action at the time. No matter, Sukeforth went to talk to Robinson anyway, explaining that Rickey was starting a new Negro League and was hoping to obtain his services for the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers. He told Robinson to meet him at the Stevens Hotel after the game. He did. 

Sukeforth convinced Robinson to travel to Brooklyn to meet Branch Rickey since he was injured and couldn't play anyway. When Rickey met Robinson, he explained that the whole idea of a new Negro League was nothing but a subterfuge. The intention was to make Jackie Robinson the first black Major Leaguer.

The wheels began to turn with that meeting at the Stevens Hotel.

If you attended SoxFest this past weekend, you may have been in the very area where that meeting took place. The Stevens Hotel is now the Hilton Chicago.

Robinson went on to have a few notable Chicago moments as a Major Leaguer as well. When Robinson made his first Major League stop at Wrigley Field, 47,101 fans packed the place. He also returned to Comiskey Park for the 1950 All-Star Game, making it one Negro League All-Star Game AND one Major League All-Star game apiece at the Palace at 35th and Shields. 

Chicago definitely has a spot on the map of Jackie Robinson's incredible story.

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Sources:

  • Jackie Robinson - A Biography by Arnold Rampersad
  • 42 Faith by Ed Henry
  • Negro League Baseball - The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution by Neil Lanctot
  • Black Baseball's National Showcase - The East-West All-Star Game, 1933-1953 by Larry Lester
  • Chicago's 55-Year Secret: Jackie Robinson's Tryout with the White Sox by William Hageman - Chicago Tribune March 26, 1997