With today being Jackie Robinson Day, we look back to 70 years ago when Robinson was in Montreal.
Today is one of my favorite days on the baseball calendar. When the Washington Nationals take on the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, each player will be wearing the number 42 to honor the late great Jackie Robinson, who was the first to break baseball’s color barrier. I have said that if I could go back in time to watch any team in baseball, it would be the Brooklyn Dodgers with Robinson.
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Robinson never played a regular season game in the Nation’s Capital because the Washington Senators never made it to the World Series. However, he did have some ties to the Expos when you consider he played baseball in Montreal back in the 1940’s.
Back on October 23, 1945, the Dodgers signed Robinson to a contract and he began his career with the Dodgers’ triple-A team, the Montreal Royals, who were managed by Clay Hopper. Hopper would end up winning the International League Manager of the Year in 1946.
Back in 1945, the Royals went to the Championship game before losing to the Newark Bears (New York Yankees) in a game seven. Robinson would help take that minor league team to the next level in 1946.
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In 124 games that season, Robinson had a slash line of .349/.468/.462 with three home runs and 66 RBI’s while playing second base. He ended up moving to first base when he played in Brooklyn in 1947. His .349 average and 113 runs scored were the best in the International League. He was always known for his speed, but he was actually second on the Royals in stolen bases with 40 (outfielder Marv Rackley had 65 steals that season). Rackley would play three seasons with Robinson in Brooklyn (1947-1949).
Robinson got his season started off on the right foot when he went 4-for-5 with a home run and four RBI’s in Montreal’s 14-1 win on the road over the Jersey City Giants (New York Giants). The Royals would finish that season with a 100-54 record, winning their division by a mammoth 18.5 games over the Syracuse Chiefs (Cincinnati Reds).
The Royals would go on to play in the Championship series against the Chiefs and win it in five games to advance to the Juinor League World Series, where they beat the Louisville Colonels (Boston Red Sox) in six games. But, the most important thing to come from that series was the postgame reception he got from fans in a time of segregation. Here is a powerful quote from Sam Matlin, a baseball writer for The Pittsburgh Courier:
"“It was probably the only day in history that a black man ran from a white mob with love instead of lynching on its mind.”(h/t Remembering Jackie Robinson, MILB.com)"
That would be the only season the Hall Of Famer spent in Montreal as he made his debut for the Dodgers in the following season and the rest is history. So, on this day, let’s remember to honor a man whose impact was felt both on and off the baseball diamond.