Happy birthday, Jackie Robinson: a look at his Buffalo connections
blog by Ben Kirst • January 31, 2013 @ 10:24am
Happy birthday, Jackie Robinson. The first African-American player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier was born 94 years ago today in Cairo, Ga. Let’s take a quick look at some of Robinson’s Buffalo connections.
Robinson, of course, is best known as a member of the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers squads of the late 1940s and early 1950s, but he began his professional career in what was, at the time, white man’s baseball with the Montreal Royals in 1946. Montreal was a Brooklyn AAA farm team in the International League—the same league in which the Buffalo Bisons played. Robinson, therefore, was quite familiar to the Buffalo baseball fans of the day.
And they liked him! Consider this reception:
While Robinson faced hostility in several cities, he was warmly welcomed in the Royals’ first trip to Buffalo, where over 12,000 Bisons fans showed up for a Sunday afternoon doubleheader. According to The Sporting News, ‘Jackie Robinson and Roy Partlow, Negro infielder and pitcher of the Royals, were honored by Buffalo fans, May 19, being presented with an assortment of gifts including cash, wallets, wrist watches and traveling bags.’
Right on, Buffalo. He would see far worse treatment when he reached the big leagues in 1947.
UPDATED: Here is a look at The Buffalo News from May 20, with a gigantic thanks to Buffalo News Librarian Dave Valenzuela:
Robinson also spent the 1946 Fourth of July in Buffalo, collecting three hits in the first game of a doubleheader with the Bisons.
In a three-game series over two days in Buffalo on Aug. 22-23, 1946, Robinson struggled at the plate at old Offerman Park (it was on East Ferry Street, where the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts is now located) but managed to help turn four double plays and steal home. The Sporting News reported that “...Robinson earned several ovations from Buffalo fandom, especially after pilfering home, August 22, and then turning an unassisted double play the next night.”
That Montreal team also featured a pair of local characters—Joe Gallagher, South Buffalo native and member of the 1939 World Series-winning New York Yankees, roamed the outfield along with Chet Ross, a journeyman left-fielder who hung around the majors with the Boston Braves for six seasons (he led the league in strikeouts in 1940). Both men have since passed away, and Ross is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna.
Other Buffalo connections: Robinson faced Buffalo native Warren Spahn and Niagara Falls son Sal Maglie more than any other pitchers in his career, with the exceptions of Phillies great Robin Roberts and longtime National League hurler Murry Dickson. Robinson hit .275 against Spahn with a .351 on-base percentage, and stole home on the South Park graduate on Sept. 28, 1948. Robinson wore out Maglie, hitting .310 against the notorious New York Giants “Barber” with a .407 OBP and .440 slugging percentage.
Happy birthday, Jackie!