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Archive for the ‘Brooklyn Dodgers’ Category

Jackie joined a winning team in ’47

Posted by athomeatfenway on February 14, 2013


Rickey added a winner.  Period.

Rickey added a winner. Period.

I have been catching the offerings on MLB Network, ESPN Classic and other sports verticals. Three days ago I read with great relish the back-to-back scheduling of Henry Aaron, Reggie Jackson, Buck O’Neil and Bob Gibson on separate interview shows hosted by the late & great Dick Schaap and highly skilled Roy Firestone.

On that meandering day I heard Buck O’Neil explain that poor attendance drove the Dodgers to sign Jackie Robinson, and that good attendance was the reason that the Red Sox and Yankees were not motivated to integrate.

It’s interesting to examine Brooklyn’s intentions for hiring Jackie because the Dodgers not only were the first….they were the best. Rickey’s team signed a series of major black stars including Robinson, Campanella, Black, and Newcombe. With a heroic black and white nucleus, they played in the World Series 6 time in 10 years.

It is interesting to examine Brooklyn’s intentions because they have often been attributed to motivations of social justice and morality.

But was poor attendance in Brooklyn the catalyst for change? That seems to be possibly true at first blush….but…..not exactly true. I checked it out.

1947, Jackie’s first year in Dodger flannels, was a banner one for Brooklyn. There were 1,807,526 paid admissions to Ebbets Field. That set a new franchise record that would not be broken until 1959, when the Alston men played in the 78,000 seat L.A. Coliseum.

1.8 million is a staggering count for 1947, especially compared to the earlier war years. 1.8 million is THREE TIMES the paid attendance of 1944 (605,905).

Furthermore, Brooklyn ranked #1 in total attendance in the National League for 1947.

There is no question that Jackie created a passionate interest in what occurred in the little 35,000 seat ballpark built by Charles Hercules Ebbets. But was Robinson the driving force? Was the boom in Brooklyn really a spike in a trend ?

A little digging reveals that the 1.8 million of ’47 was actually just a smidge above ’46. The Jackie-less Dodgers of 1946 pulled 1,796,824 while Robinson batted .349 for the Montreal Royals. (That year, Montreal also rostered Al Campanis, of all people).

So Jackie’s MLB advent resulted in an immediate home attendance increase of only one half of 1%.

Further digging shows that the Dodgers were a team on the rise for the 8 years prior to Robinson. In 5 of the 7 years immediately prior to his arrival, the Dodgers ranked 1st in the league in attendance. Plus 1 year ranked 2nd, and the other 3rd.

1939 was the year that the Dodgers leaped to the top in ticket sales. A position that would last through the Ebbets Field years and well into the Dodger Stadium era.

So what happened in 1939 ? Leo Durocher replaced Burleigh Grimes as Skipper. The Dodgers improved from 69 wins to 84 wins. From .448 to .545.

Durocher brought his feisty brand of “I come to kill You” baseball in 1939. Plus, in the 3 years that followed Leo’s coming, the Dodgers added Pee Wee Reese, Joe Medwick, Pete Reiser, Mickey Owen, Kirby Higbe and Whit Wyatt, thus bringing depth of white talent to the roster. A team that was a loser from 1932 to 1938, the nadir of the Great Depression, became a winner.

The Dodgers didn’t need Jackie Robinson to drive attendance. They were already a good team that was highly ranked in ticket sales and on the diamond.

But Jackie did bring something that cannot be overvalued in our game. Jackie led a new decade of winning. He was the best player in the league. An inspiration to teammates and fans.

In Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy’s new book, Francona, the Red Sox Years, Theo Epstein is quoted as saying, “The only way to successfully market a baseball team is by winning.”

Jackie was the cardinal rule. He was insurance for continuing success. Pennants, baby.

And the time was ripe for change.

In the late 1930’s, MLB players were asked if they were ready for black players to join them in the big leagues. 80% of them said yes, according to Ken Burns’ landmark 1996 documentary, Baseball.

The time for change and acceptance had arrived in the minds of the majority.

No, it wasn’t an attendance problem that compelled Rickey to sign Jackie. There was no attendance problem.

And it was not good attendance that prevented Tom Yawkey, Dan Topping and Del Webb from signing Robinson, Satchel Paige, or Willie Mays. It was something else. The same belief system that festered in the DNA of K.M. Landis and J.G. Taylor Spink, two of many baseball bigots.

Go Sox.

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Book Review: Larry King WHY I LOVE BASEBALL

Posted by athomeatfenway on November 28, 2008


Why I Love Baseball.  By Larry King with Julie McCarron.  Phoenix Books.  160 pages.   2006. 

Little Larry King, who would one day become a broadcasting legend, stood on a Brooklyn street with lifelong friend, Herbie Cohen.  It was either 1948 or ’49.  King, a not so rugged 15 year old, smashed Herbie’s head into a lamppost.  Cohen then nailed King with a shot to the chin. 


Down on the street they went, both bleeding and struggling.


When the fisticuffs were over, the two friends didn’t speak for a week.


What Cohen said to ignite King was this:.  “Snuffy Stirnweiss is a better second baseman than Jackie Robinson.”


That assertion still bothers King to this day.  It is shocking and obscene to him.


If that seems extreme to you, well…..I’m not sure I agree with you.. 

(It bothers me to this day that my beloved brother teased me 35 years ago by referring to my own hero as “Carl Pigstremski, son of a potato pickin’ polack”.) 

King’s father died when he was just 9 years old.  A fatherless, unathletic kid raised in Brooklyn, King had ample opportunity to get into the bleachers at Ebbets Field when he had the spare change, or into the Left Field Grandstand for free through the courtesy of the Police Athletic League.


King became a hard wired Brooklyn fan.  Locked in for life.  True Blue. 

His cousin Bernie took him to his first Dodger game 2 months after his Dad passed away.


“It was a clear, sunny day.  I remember walking into Ebbets Field and seeing that magnificent old stadium, smelling the popcorn and beer and hotdogs, seeing the brown dirt against the green grass and the crisp white uniforms of the Dodgers….They were playing the Cincinnati Reds, who wore their visiting gray.  Curt Davis was pitching for the Dodgers.  We won, I think the score was 4-3 or 5-4.  I can still vividly recall how my heart pounded just at seeing a major league field.  By the way, that feeling remains to this very day.  I’ve been to hundreds and hundreds of games, and every time I walk into a ballpark I get the same feeling I had at my first game, that summer day in 1943.

Young King was constantly at Ebbets Field. 

He fed Jackie Robinson and Joe Hatten chicken-fat-and-matzo sandwiches from behind the dugout.  He watched Pistol Pete Reiser run flat out into the outfield wall, which would help cut short a HOF-bound career.

He dearly remembers the ’47 Series when Lavagetto hit a 9th-inning, 2-RBI double to win game 4, and Gionfriddo robbed DiMaggio in game 6 with an outfield catch that defied logic.


The Boys of Summer were his boyz.  Robinson, Hodges, Cox, Reese, Campanella, Snider and Furillo.  King observes that Left Field was always a problem for the Brooklyns.  They first filled it with Hermanski and later Pafko, neither of whom had as much talent and pizzaz as the rest.


Following the Dodger abandonment of Brooklyn, King refused to transfer his personal loyalty to Los Angeles.  They ripped his heart out.  A decade later, he threw his loyalty in with two other team.


He became a Baltimore Oriole fan.  And a New York Mets rooter. 

Living in Washington D.C. in the 70’s, he became acquainted with Edward Bennett Williams, Earl Weaver, the Robinson boys, Jim Palmer, and the rest of the team that provided one of the longest periods of extended excellence in the history of Baseball.


Bobby Valentine was King’s connection to the Mets. 

With 30 years experience as a national media man, King briefly recounts the interviews of many stars in this book, including Durocher, Weaver, Sparky Anderson, Torre, LaRussa, Berra, Jackie, Brooks, Mantle, Henrich, Palmer, Reese, Ripken, and others


The memories resonate.  In the Barack Obama era, none ring with more import than those of Jackie Robinson, months before his death,  

“Don’t put me in the grave telling me that someday my people will have equal rights.  Give it to me now, so that when I die I know they have it.  I hate promises…”


God Bless Robinson.  He led the way in Baseball, and Baseball helped make it subsequently happen on buses, in schools, at the polls. 


This book is written like a long sprawling speech made at a hot stove league dinner in winter.


It is a fantastic and fast read. 

King includes his memories of–


-His favorite baseball books

-His favorite baseball lyrics

-The 14-year old baseball bookie now in prison
-Past owners, radio broadcasters, umpires and Players Association officials

He includes short essays from Herbie Cohen, Charlie Bragg, Bob Costas, and a 23 page reprinting of George Will’s 99 reasons that Baseball is better than Football. 


#13 of Will’s reasons is the following insight….”Football Coaches talk about character, gut checks, intensity and reckless abandon.  Tommy LaSorda said, ‘Managing is like holding a dove in your hand.  Squeeze too hard and you kill it; not hard enough and it flies away.’.” 

There are dozens of such jewels in Why I love Baseball.


This book will have its critics.  Too facile, too conversational.  But if you love Baseball you will find plenty of warm and valuable memories in it. 

I give it an A -.


Buddies who share an unabiding love of the game

Buddies who share an unabiding love of the game

Always tries to make BP

Always tries to make BP




Jackie graciously ate Larry's matzo sandwich.

Jackie graciously ate Larry

Posted in BASEBALL, BASEBALL BOOKS, Brooklyn Dodgers | 1 Comment »