The new baseball movie, 42 and celebration of this year’s 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first year as a Major League sports star bring back thoughts of when I first saw him play. I was a spectator at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park in May 1947 when the visiting then-Brooklyn Dodgers faced the Philadelphia Phillies.
First ’47 Dodger-Phillies Game At Shibe Park It was the first game at the beginning of that season when the Dodgers were there, and Jackie Robinson’s first time in his career when he faced the Phillies. In addition to the usual pressures of playing a Major League game, Robinson had the added situation of needing to confront the hostile Philadelphia fans. The locals in the grandstands and bleachers in those long ago days were known as “Boo Birds”, because of their loud, often obscene verbal abuse hurled at visiting team players. Robinson, playing second base for the Dodgers, was in for extra special treatment.
Eyewitness From The Bleachers I was there with several college classmates for the afternoon game, sitting out beyond left field in the 50-cent bleacher seats. Of course, we enthusiastically joined other Philly fans in yelling when the hated enemies from New York, the Dodgers, took the field or came up to bat. Additionally, as graphic scenes in the movie portray graphically, it became much worse. Phillies Manager Ben Chapman, many members of the home team, as well as fans, hurled their loudest racial abuse at history’s first African-American Major Leaguer, the young Brooklyn rookie, Jackie Robinson. I was there and heard them all.
Dignity And Skill Overcome Abuse However, seeming to ignore the noise, Jackie went calmly about playing the game with energy and skill. He got two hits, ran the bases with amazing speed and was involved in two defensive double plays. As the game progressed, there were fewer boos and cat-calls from the stands. When it went into extra innings, some fans actually cheered Robinson when he came up to the plate and made expert plays in the field.
Jackie Robinson’s Legacy Of course, we all were happy when the Phils won 6-5 in the 11th inning. However, when we left Shibe Park that day after the game, we had learned a valuable lesson in respect and admiration for Jackie Robinson. He showed us that he could weather the abuse with dignity and set an example in sportsmanship. In his first season as a Brooklyn Dodger, he truly paved the way for Major League Baseball to rise above racism and become a sport for all Americans.
Ted Sherman grew up in Philadelphia going to Phillies games at Shibe Park (including the 1950 World Series against the Yankees) and remains a Phillies Phan today. Now retired, he worked in public relations and was able to meet and work with many Phillies legends including Robin Roberts and Harry Kalas. You can follow him on Twitter – @travel4seniors.