The First Jackie Robinson Day – in 1947

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Jackie Robinson awaits his first at-bat in the major leagues, Tuesday, April 15, 1947, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, NY

There’s really not much I can add regarding the significance of April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson’s debut, that hasn’t been discussed at length before. But, as I posted in the Baseball Fever website on the 70th anniversary of this event last year, I thought it would be interesting to examine not only photos taken on that day, but how the printed press handled it as well. Herewith, media coverage of the events that occurred on that mild Tuesday April afternoon at Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, NY, a long time ago.

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Dodger teammates pose with Jackie prior to the April 15, 1947 contest. L-R: Spider Jorgensen, Pee Wee Reese, Eddie Stanky, Robinson.
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The crowd at Ebbets Field that day (bottom of the 2nd inning, Jackie not pictured).

The following are varying newspapers accounts of the day, influenced by the fact that Jackie’s debut wasn’t the only baseball story in Brooklyn at the time – it was also Opening Day of the 1947 season, and additionally, popular manager Leo Durocher had just been suspended for the entire campaign by Commissioner Happy Chandler for suspected ties to gamblers. Depending on the source, many in the press elected to emphasize the Durocher story, or even the details of the game itself, over the Robinson angle. Coverage particular to Robinson I’ve highlighted/brightened in areas below (also, as always, all images can be clicked on and opened in separate windows for closer viewing).

The first clippings here are from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, with mostly straight-ahead coverage. Robinson’s debut was discussed, with photos, and they relayed that Jackie “received a good hand from the crowd”, although it was also noted that in contrast Dixie Walker (an outspoken critic of the situation) “received an ovation”.

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Next up, the New York Times, with extended coverage, but tempering their enthusiasm of this new development, dubbing it “quite uneventful”, and that Robinson “minds his own business”, but that he “already has made a strong impression”. They also quoted a Dodger (unnamed) as saying “I’m for him, if he can win games. That’s the only test I ask”, and that it appeared to be the general opinion among the players.

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The Sporting News (from April 23, first issue able to cover the day) was among the few mainstream publications to deem the occasion important enough to include it in not only a headline of its own (in fact multiple headlines), but dedicating a few separate columns to the event, and (as is most typical of their first-rate reporting during the classic baseball era) did an outstanding job in covering many aspects of the event, thorough and relatively respectable, including interviews with Jackie himself, which yielded a couple of interesting quotes: “Give me five years of this and that will be enough.” Also, “The Brooklyn crowd was certainly on my side, but I don’t know how it will be in other parks”.

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To wrap up, as would be expected, the African American newspaper the Pittsburgh Courier (represented in the recent “42” movie and issued on April 19 as it was only published on Saturdays at the time) was the most enthusiastic about the debut. The coverage (which also included his success in exhibition games, and an ebullient column from Jackie himself) could hardly contain its joy and excitement, although cautioning their readers to “take it in stride”.

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The coverage included an article from the Courier’s sports columnist Wendell Smith, also represented in “42”, on Jackie’s debut. Sadly cut off, but most can be read.

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Also included is a pictorial page with many great photos.

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My favorite of those being the photo below:

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To quote Jackie himself from his column above: “Next time I go to a movie and see a picture of a little ordinary girl become a great star, I’ll believe it. And whenever I hear my wife read fairy tales to my little boy, I’ll listen. I know now that dreams do come true”.

And one final word from the Pittsburgh Courier: “Too big for bias, too terrific for prejudice, he’s Jackie the Great.” And as his achievements become more profound as the years pass, that’s hard to argue with.

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