Cubs and Jackie Robinson, Part 1

Wednesday will be the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first game at Wrigley Field.

May 18, 1947. was 5 weeks after Robinson had made his historic Major League debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, at home against the Boston Braves.


In front of 26,623 fans, Robinson played first base and batted second.

When he came to the plate for the first time, against Johnny Sain with 1 out in the first inning, he grounded out to second.

He flied to left in the third, then hit into a 6-4-3 double play in the fifth.

In the seventh, with a man on first and nobody out, Robinson laid down a bunt. The first baseman fielded the ball and threw it away, leaving Robinson on second and his teammate on third. Pete Reiser then doubled both home, giving the Dodgers a 4-3 lead.

They completed a 5-3 victory when Hugh Casey entered the game with 2 on in the ninth and quickly got the final 2 outs.

Robinson was not on the field for the finish. He had been replaced by Howie Schultz at the beginning of the inning.

Since 2005, baseball has celebrated April 15 each year as Jackie Robinson Day.


On the 17th, in his second game, Robinson got his first hit, a fifth-inning bunt, and walked twice.

The next day, at New York, he hit his first home run, leading off the third inning, and the day after that, he went 3 for 4, including his first double.



Robinson faced the Cubs for the first time at Ebbets Field on April 29. He went 0 for 3 but reached base on a walk and an error, and scored each time in a 10-6 victory.

In the second game of the series, a 3-1 loss to the Cubs, Robinson was 0 for 4.

In the finale, he recorded his first hit against the Cubs, a first-inning double off Bob Chipman, and wound up 1 for 4. The Dodgers won, 5-2.

The attendance that Thursday afternoon was 14,333. The next time the teams met, there would be more than 3 times as many spectators.



Before they faced the Cubs again, the Dodgers played 13 games and won only 4. They played 4 series and a single game against Boston. They lost every series, capped by a 4-0 defeat in the rubber game of a 3-game set at Pittsburgh, in which the Dodgers were shut out despite making 12 hits.

After leaving Brooklyn, the Cubs were rained out for 3 straight days. Then they swept 3 games at Philadelphia and took 3 out of 4 at Cincinnati, to return home in first place. They promptly dropped 4 in a row, the first to the Braves, then 3 in a row to the Giants, the last of those in 11 innings.

That result left the Cubs (14-11) and Giants (13-10) tied for second in the tightly packed standings. The Braves (15-11) led by half a game. The Dodgers (13-12) and Pirates (11-10) were tied for fourth. The sixth-place Pirates (13-13) were only 2 games behind.



May 18, when Robinson made his first appearance at Wrigley Field was a Sunday. It was only time all season that the Cubs began a series on that day of the week.

Here is how Edward Burns of the Chicago Tribune began his account of the game:

"The largest National League crowd that ever paid to see a game in Wrigley field -- 46,572 cash guests -- yesterday jammed all available spaces to see Jackie Robinson, his fellow Dodgers and the Cubs. Those who were rooting for the Dodgers as a team got the greatest satisfaction for the Dodgers won, 4 to 2, with little help from Robinson and much help from the Cubs.

"The crowd, by the way, was the second largest in the history of Wrigley field for a league game, topped only by the gathering of 51,556 in 1930, under the old bleacher setup, when overflow field crowds were tolerated. That crowd, however, included 30,476 ladies day crasherettes. . . .

"There was no doubt that the new paid record was set because Robinson, the much discussed Negro athlete, was making his first baseball appearance in Chicago, as a big leaguer. Jackie tried like everything to function for the Dodgers' cause, but he twice was called out on strikes, the second time with the bases full and none out in the big seventh, when Brooklyn made all its runs. Robinson also saw his consecutive game hitting streak stopped at 14 and was charged with one harmless error."


The story was on the front page of the Tribune's sports section, in the right-most column, beneath a page-wide headline.

There was a photo of Robinson, too -- but on the third page of the section, beneath the headline, PAFKO OUT AT FIRST BASE.

Robinson's face is not visible. His back is to the camera as he comes off the base, bent at the waist, after digging out a throw in the dirt by third baseman Cookie Lavagetto to retire Pafko, the leadoff hitter in the the fifth inning.

Cubs first base coach Roy Johnson is in the left foreground. He has the number 42 on the back of his uniform, the same as Robinson.



The official attendance, including guests, was 47,101.

To put that number in perspective:

It was 17,500 -- 60 percent -- more than the 29,427 the Cubs had attracted on Opening Day, April 15, against the Pirates.

It was 10,000 -- 28 percent -- more than the largest crowd for any of their 11 previous home games: 36,839 on April 27, another Sunday, against the Cardinals.

It was nearly 3 times the 16,592 average for all 11 earlier games at Wrigley.

It was more than double the 22,645 for an entire 3-game, midweek series in April against the Reds.

It was almost 4 times the average of 12,233 for the 4 games against the Braves and Giants that had begun the home stand.

It was fewer than 2,000 less than the total of 48,933 for those last 4 games.


Over the rest of the season, in 60 more home dates, the biggest turnout would be 44,944, for a Fourth of July doubleheader against the Cardinals -- more 2,000 fewer than for Robinson's debut.

There would be only 1 other crowd of at least 40,000: 41,120 on Aug. 3, another Sunday -- for another game against the Dodgers.

The Cubs would finish 1947 with a total attendance of 1,364,039, ranking third behind Brooklyn (1,807,526) and New York (1,600,793). The Cubs played their 79 home games on 71 dates, so they averaged 17,266 per date.

But 304,499 of the Cubs' total -- 22 percent -- came just in their 11 dates against the Dodgers.

They averaged 27,682 when Brooklyn was in town, which was 9,094 -- 49 percent -- more than the average of 18,588 against all other teams.


In fact, the 47,101 for Robinson's debut has been surpassed only once at Wrigley Field in all the years since, and then by just 70 fans.

There were 47,171 in the park on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 1948, when the Cubs swept a doubleheader . . . against the Dodgers.

There have been only 2 other crowds of at least 45,000 in 1947-2019, both against the Pirates: 46,695 for a doubleheader on May 31, 1948, and 45,777 for the Cubs' home opener on April 14, 1978.

Changes in the seating configuration at Wrigley Field, of course, have made such crowds impossible. The park's current capacity is 41,649.


During Robinson's 10-year career, the Cubs played in front of at least 40,000 at home on 15 dates: 8 against the Dodgers and 7 against everyone else: 2 each against the Cardinals and Giants, and 1 apiece vs. the Braves, Reds and Pirates. Their largest audience against the Phillies was just 32,712.

Of those 40,000-plus crowds not against the Dodgers, all but 1 were for doubleheaders. In contrast, 6 of the 8 throngs against the Dodgers were single games.

The Cubs played 125 doubleheaders at Wrigley in 1947-56. Just 7 were against the Dodgers: 2 in 1948, 1 each in 1953-55 and 2 in 1956. All 7 were the result of earlier games postponed by rain or cold.

So, the Cubs averaged nearly 20 doubleheaders -- 2 per year -- against their 6 others rivals, while playing only 7 -- less than 1 per year -- against the Dodgers.

And while Sunday doubleheaders became a staple of all teams' schedules in the 1940s and 1950s, none of the Cubs' 7 against the Dodgers took place on Sunday. They played 54 against the 6 other teams!


Clearly, Cubs management knew the Dodgers sold more tickets than other visitors.

Indeed, over Robinson's 10 seasons, when the Cubs played Brooklyn, the average crowd was 20,319. That was 44 percent more than the 14,146 for games against anyone else.

In 5 of the 10 seasons, attendance was 51-57 percent higher for the Dodgers, and it was 49 percent in 2 others -- including, as noted, 1947.



In Robinson's Wrigley Field debut on May 18, he was the second Dodger to face Cubs starter Johnny Schmitz.

A 26-year-old lefty, Schmitz had been with the Cubs since 1941, but had missed all of 1943-45 while serving in World War II. He had made the All-Star team in 1946, which he finished 11-11, with a 2.61 earned run average.

Going into the game against the Dodgers, his ERA was a sparkling 0.98 and his record was 3-2. In his wins, all complete games, he had allowed 1 earned run on 17 hits, highlighted by a 4-hit shutout of the Cardinals.

But he had lasted only 5 innings against the Braves the previous Tuesday, as he allowed 5 runs on 9 hits and 4 walks.


Robinson, as Burns noted in the Tribune, began the day with a 14-game hitting streak.

It had begun with his single at home against the Cubs. During the streak, his slash line was .351/.413/.386 and his average was .370 on balls in play.

He collected 20 hits, 2 of them doubles, and had 6 games with 2 hits, including the last 4 in a row.

That hot spell had boosted Robinson's slash numbers from .225/.354/.325 to .299/.387/.361. A base hit in his first at bat against Schmitz would raise his average to .300.

But Robinson did not swing at a 3-2 pitch, and home plate umpire Babe Pinelli called Robinson out.

In the third inning, with the game still scoreless, Eddie Stanky walked on a 3-2 count. Robinson took 2 balls, then hit a line drive to center -- where it was caught by Pafko.


The Cubs scored 2 runs in the fourth off Dodgers starter Joe Hatten, on 3 singles and a sacrifice fly by Schmitz.

In the Dodgers' fifth, Pee Wee Reese was safe on an infield error, then Hatten struck out and Reese was caught stealing. Stanky walked, bringing up Robinson for a third time.

Again, he worked the count to 3-2. Again, he did not offer at the next pitch. This time, Pinelli called it ball 4. But the 2-out rally fizzled when Pete Reiser struck out on 3 pitches.

In the bottom of the inning, with 2 out and nobody on, Robinson failed to secure a throw from Lavagetto at third and was charged with an error. It happened just 2 batters after the play shown in the Tribune's photograph. After Bill Nicholson singled, the next batter also grounded to Lavagetto, and this time Robinson handled his throw, ending the inning.


Reese led off the seventh by drawing a walk. Pinch hitter Tommy Brower singled on the first pitch he saw, then Stanky laid down a bunt and beat it out. Up came Robinson, with the bases loaded and nobody out.

For a third time, the count reached 3-2. For a third time, Robinson did not swing. For a second time, he was called out on strikes.


As Robinson watched from the dugout, the Dodgers quickly broke the game open. Reiser doubled home 2 runs. After an intentional walk, a ground ball by Dixie Walker scored a third run. Another intentional walk followed, then Schmitz threw 4 straight balls, forcing in run No. 4.

That was the end of the day for Schmitz. He had given up 4 runs on 6 hits while walking 8, 2 intentionally, and striking out 9.


Hank Wyse replaced Schmitz. Wyse, a 29-year-old righty, had won 22 games to help the Cubs win the pennant in 1945. He had slipped to 14-12 in 1946 and was 2-3 so far in 1947. All of his 6 previous appearances had been starts.

He got Reese to hit into a forceout, ending the inning with the score still 4-2. He retired 3 in a row in the eighth, the last a popup by Robinson that first baseman Eddie Waitkus caught in foul territory, then 3 straight in the ninth.

But Dodgers reliever Hugh Casey stymied the Cubs over the final 3 innings. He gave up 1-out singles in the seventh and eighth, but neither runner advanced beyond first base.

After Stan Hack walked to open the ninth, Casey got Waitkus to hit into a 4-6-3 double play. Pafko then flied out to center, ending the game.



Robinson's 2 strikeouts in his Wrigley Field debut were among 11 by Dodgers hitters.

He had not struck out more than once in any of his 25 previous games. In fact, he had struck out exactly 6 times, in 115 trips to the plate. He had earned 10 walks.

Robinson would not strike out twice again in any of his next 82 games, until Aug. 9 at home against the Phillies. He also would have 2 strikeouts on Aug. 17 at Philadelphia and Sept. 21 vs. Boston.

That's a total of 4 multi-strikeout games. He struck out once in 28 games and not at all in 123 -- more than 80 percent of the 151 games he played in his first season.

He ended his rookie year with just 36 strikeouts in 701 plate appearances, or 1 of every 19.5.

He walked 74 times, for a walk-to-strikeout ratio of better than 2 to 1.

Throughout his career, Robinson never would come close to having as many strikeouts as walks. His lowest ratio was 1.5 to 1 in his second season, 57 to 38. His best was 3.4 to 1 in 1955, 61 to 18. He had 4 seasons of at least 3 to 1, and another of 2.9.

For his career, his ratio was 2.5 to 1: 740 walks and 291 strikeouts.

He struck out once for every 20 appearances, averaging 29 strikeouts a year. The most he had in any season was 40, in 1952. He also had 106 walks that year, 20 more than in any other season, and led both leagues in on-base percentage for the only time, at .440.



Robinson's second game in Chicago was as frustrating as his first -- maybe more so, as the Dodgers squandered an early 3-2 lead and lost to the Cubs, 8-7.

The Monday afternoon gathering of 21,875 saw Robinson go 0 for 4 with a walk.

After flying out in the first inning, he made the final out 3 times, stranding 5 runners: a popup to second with 2 on in the second, a foul popup to third with the potential tying run on first in the sixth, and a grounder to first with 2 on and the Dodgers a run down in the eighth.

Robinson had arrived in Chicago batting .299/.387/.361. Two days later, his line was down to .276/.372/.333.


There was no third game of the series. On Tuesday, the Dodgers were rained out at St. Louis. The Cubs beat the Phillies, tying the score at 2 on a pair of doubles in the ninth, then winning in the 11th on pinch hitter Lonny Frey's no-out, bases-loaded walk-off single.

There were only 5,367 in the seats, the smallest crowd of the young season. There would be only 4 smaller, all between Sept. 12 and 26, as the Cubs stumbled to a 69-85, sixth-place finish. The smallest was 2,919, on the final Friday of the year.

Fifteen of the Cubs' losses came in their 22 games against Robinson and the Dodgers. They were 5-6 at home but 2-9 at Brooklyn, including a 5-game sweep in July during a 9-game losing streak that was part of 4-11 road trip.



The Cubs and Dodgers met only once in the month following Robinson's first visit to Wrigley Field, on June 6, at Brooklyn, as games scheduled for the next 2 days were rained out.

Stanky and Robinson singled off Wyse to start the game, then Robinson was tagged out in a rundown when he tried to score of a single by Duke Snider.

But Robinson came up again the next inning, with the bases loaded on a hit, an error, a bunt and an intentional walk to Stanky.

Robinson lined a single to left, scoring the runners from second and third. Outfielder Marvin Rickert's throw home sailed past the catcher and was snared by Wyse, backing up the plate. Seeing Robinson head for second, Wyse fired the ball wildly. It rolled all the way to the center field wall, as Stanky trotted home from third and Robinson sprinted home from second with the fourth run of the play.

Those runs made the difference, as the Dodgers won, 6-2.


TOMORROW: Robinson vs. the Cubs during the rest of his career

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