Seventy-five years ago today, Sunday, May 18, 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers made their first visit of that season to Wrigley Field.
That’s significant because it was the first appearance of Jackie Robinson at Wrigley.
Legendary Chicago columnist Mike Royko attended that game as a teenager and the day Robinson died in 1972 wrote this eloquent column (scroll down, it’s the second column on that link) about his experience:
Robinson came up in the first inning. I remember the sound. It wasn't the shrill, teenage cry you now hear, or an excited gut roar. They applauded, long, rolling applause. A tall, middle-aged black man stood next to me, a smile of almost painful joy on his face, beating his palms together so hard they must have hurt.
I don’t think anyone can or ever should underestimate the effect that Robinson’s debut season in major-league baseball had on this country. At one point in the game, Royko happened to catch a foul ball hit by Robinson. Then this happened:
A genuine major-league baseball that had actually been gripped and thrown by a Cub pitcher, hit by a Dodger batter. What a possession.
Then I heard the voice say: "Would you consider selling that?"
It was the black man who had applauded so fiercely.
I mumbled something. I didn't want to sell it.
"I'll give you ten dollars for it," he said.
Ten dollars. I couldn't believe it. I didn't know what ten dollars could buy because I'd never had that much money. But I knew that a lot of men in the neighborhood considered sixty dollars a week to be good pay.
I handed it to him, and he paid me with ten $1 bills.
When I left the ball park, with that much money in my pocket, I was sure that Jackie Robinson wasn't bad for the game.
Since then, I've regretted a few times that I didn't keep the ball. Or that I hadn't given it to him free. I didn't know, then, how hard he probably had to work for that ten dollars.
But Tuesday I was glad I had sold it to him. And if that man is still around, and has that baseball, I'm sure he thinks it was worth every cent.
The paid crowd of 46,572 that May afternoon in 1947 was, and will remain forever given the park’s now-smaller capacity, the biggest regular-season paid attendance in Wrigley Field history. Robinson went 0-for-4 as the Dodgers beat the Cubs 4-2.
Jackie Robinson died young, at 53. He’s been gone for nearly half a century, yet his impact on baseball and American society resonates to this day.
Five years ago, on the 70th anniversary of Robinson’s first appearance at Wrigley, so beautifully chronicled by Royko, Robinson was honored before a game at the North Side ballpark. The Cubs that afternoon raised a new retired-number flag honoring Robinson’s No. 42 on the right-field foul pole, which flies there during games to this day. Jackie Robinson’s granddaughter, Meta Robinson, helped raise that new flag honoring his legacy. Wrigley Field is the only remaining big-league park in which Robinson played.
The team had previously flown a “JR 42” flag on Wrigley Field’s roof following the retirement of Robinson’s number 42 by Major League Baseball in 1997. Buck O'Neil, Ernie Banks and Billy Williams were on hand for that pregame ceremony.
Here is some grainy home-movie footage taken at Wrigley 70 years ago, showing the Dodgers on the field. Robinson appears about 25 seconds in.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a revised version of an article that ran at this site five years ago on the 70th anniversary of Robinson’s first Wrigley game, May 18, 2017.