L.A. vs. Boston: The “Jackie” Series

By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus

Somewhere in California, the executives at FOX Sports are doing a very bad version of the Cabbage Patch dance. However, I think they really won’t care. Two of MLB’s blue blood franchises — the Dodgers and Red Sox — will meet in this year’s World Series.

Dave Roberts and his two-time NL champs beat out Colorado in the Western Division tiebreaker, defeated the upstarts from Atlanta in the NLDS, and outlasted Milwaukee in a nerve-racking NLCS to get back to the Fall Classic.

As for Alex Cora and Boston, their franchise-record 108-win season has made them the team to beat since the postseason began. The rival Yankees fell in four games in the ALDS and they sent the defending World Champion Astros home in five in the ALCS.

When it became apparent that L.A. and Boston were going to meet in the World Series, my first thought was obvious — Jackie Robinson. Now before you say “what the hell does he have to do with this?” allow me to explain.

 

 

While much is being made of the fact that these two franchises are only meeting in the Fall Classic for the second time — Boston defeated the then Brooklyn Robins in the 1916 series — the story of MLB’s first modern-day black ballplayer has definitive roots in both franchises.

Let me give you a brief history lesson to explain further.

Before the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Robinson in 1945, there were a handful of teams that were given the opportunity to ink the former UCLA and Negro League standout. One team in particular — the Boston Red Sox.

The activism of Hall of Fame baseball writers Wendell Smith and Sam Lacy was a key factor in seeing that players like Robinson and others be given an opportunity to break the “gentleman’s agreement” keeping blacks out of the game.

As far back as 1942, Smith and Lacy advocated on behalf of these players. Originally the Pittsburgh Pirates had scheduled a July tryout of that year for a group of players. But by August, the tryout was scrapped without an explanation.

Fast forward to April of 1945. Smith was able to arrange a pair of tryouts with the then Boston Braves and the Red Sox. Neither Beantown team was exactly coming off a stellar season.

The Braves were 40 games (65-89) behind the NL champs from St. Louis while the Red Sox (77-77) finished 12 games behind the St. Louis Browns, who won their first and only pennant in franchise history.

 

 

When you also factor in that many prominent players were serving their country in World War II, the need for quality ballplayers was in high demand. However, the ugly scourge of racism played a bigger role on and off the field.

Eventually, the Braves reneged on their promise to Smith and canceled the tryout. On April 16th, Robinson — who was a shortstop at the time — along with second baseman Marvin Williams, and outfielder Sam Jethroe all took the field at Fenway Park.

It has been alleged over the years that no one — including general manager Eddie Collins — from the team officially attended the tryout. Days and weeks passed before there was a final decision from the club regarding the players.

According to Smith, Jethroe remarked to the writer stating: “We’ll hear from the Red Sox like we’ll hear from Adolf Hitler.” Eventually, Smith had to write to the team to hear about the fate of the players.

Citing an injury to player/manager Joe Cronin and concerns over Negro league contracts, the Red Sox decided not to sign either player. For the second straight season, both Boston clubs finished in the second division.

The Red Sox were 71-83, 12 games behind the league champions from Detroit. As for the Braves, they finished 30 games (67-85) behind the Cubs. As we all know now, what was Boston’s loss eventually became Brooklyn’s and baseball’s gain.

On November 1, 1945, the Dodgers signed Robinson to a contract and would assign him to play with the Montreal Royals of the Class AAA International League. The rest, as they say, is history.

While the 1946 Red Sox would win their first pennant since 1918, Robinson — along with fellow Negro Leaguers Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella — would eventually help lead the Dodgers to a historic run of winning baseball.

In this writers’ opinion, the fact that Boston failed to sign Robinson and many other talented black ballplayers during that era changed their franchises’ history. The Red Sox passed on Willie Mays as well in later years.

A possibility of a Boston lineup that would have included Robinson, Mays, and Ted Williams might have ended the “Curse of The Bambino” much sooner than 2004. Maybe it really was the “Curse of Robinson”??

Consequently, would the legendary “Boys of Summer” in Brooklyn have matched their successful era without Robinson? Even though they only won one World Series during Robinson’s tenure, would they have even gotten the opportunity to “Wait Until Next Year”??

 

 

It’s extremely ironic that this year’s Fall Classic will not only pit two former players against each other. It’s the first all-minority manager World Series with Puerto Rican born Cora matching wits with Roberts, who’s half black and half Japanese.

A very interesting and intriguing aspect of the climax of this year’s MLB campaign.

Oh, and by the way, let’s hope it goes all seven games.

Anthony McClean can be reached via email at anthonymcclean@basnnewsroom.com.

 

 

 

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