By In Baseball, History

Jackie and Pee Wee

From NBC SportsWorld:

You may have noticed that the blog has been a bit quirky the last couple of weeks. Apparently there was some malware affecting it, and then there was an issue with comments and so on. I really need to hire somebody to run this site. Of course, I don’t make any money off it, so …

Did Pee Wee Reese put his arm around Jackie Robinson during a game in Cincinnati in 1947? This has become a pretty big topic in the last month after Ken Burns’ “Jackie Robinson” documentary took the view that it’s a myth. All due respect to Ken Burns — and the documentary is quite touching — I don’t think that’s right. I’m not certain it happened. But I’m certain it’s not a myth.

The Embrace

10 Responses to Jackie and Pee Wee

  1. Rob Edelman says:

    For more on Jackie and Pee Wee, check out the following:

    It’s on the SABR web site, and originally was published in THE TEAM THAT FOREVER CHANGED BASEBALL AND AMERICA: THE 1947 BROOKLYN DODGERS.

  2. Robert Rittner says:

    I think part of the reason many people think the story is a myth is that Jackie played 151 games at 1B in 1947 and none at 2B. The next season, he played 116 games at 2B and in 1949, he played 2B exclusively. It seemed it unlikely to many that shortstop Reese would walk across the diamond to stand near Robinson at 1B while it was easy to believe he might have moved over to his double play partner.

    Regardless, the story resonates and has the virtue of being fundamentally true if not actually so.

    • SDG says:

      That’s why I believe the accounts it happened in 1948 or 1949, in Boston. That’s what Sam Lacy said, that’s what Jackie himself said. (And Carl Erskine, who didn’t join the Dodgers until partway through 1948 says he remembers seeing it, not that that means much since memories of events you weren’t part of are hazy).

  3. Did Reese embrace Robinson? Yes–in the ways that mattered.

    • SDG says:

      Absolutely. The problem with the way the story is told (and this is a problem with the way a lot of Jackie stories are told) is it ends with “…and then no one ever yelled racist shit at Jackie ever again.” It couldn’t have been just a teammate making a quiet show of support. It had to have broad, immediate, social implications. I completely believe Pee Wee might have decided to spontaneously publicly support Jackie, and Jackie appreciated it. I don’t believe anyone else (other teammates, reporters, or certainly not fans) would have noticed or cared. If they noticed it at all, and I doubt they would have, it would have looked like the 2B and the SS talking on the field, nothing exactly unusual.

      It’s like that story in the beginning of “42” when Jackie tells the gas station owner to pull the hose out of the tank unless he lets Jackie use the bathroom. There are enough accounts of Jackie’s time with the Monarchs that indicate he would get mad at gas station owners. There are no firsthand accounts of that story itself, but I see no reason to doubt Buck O’Neil’s memory of something he heard secondhand. But it’s usually told with “…and then the Monarchs never accepted poor treatment from merchants ever again.” And why does that have to be a part of it? Why does it need to change the way huge crowds of people felt, in order for it to have mattered?

  4. John Leavy says:

    Decades ago, Dick Young was asked for his memories of Jackie Robinson’s first game. He struggled to remember the game, but drew a blank. He asked all his colleagues what they remembered, and none of them had any strong recollections of Robinson’s debut either.

    Young dug up his column from 1947, and found that most of it focused on Pete Reiser, who had a great game. Robinson was a player of historic importance, but you’d never know it from media coverage of his first game.

    I’m reminded of Archie Moonlight Graham’s observation: “It’s funny, we never recognize the most important moments of our lives while they’re happening.”

    In any event, there was FAR less media coverage of baseball than we have today. IF the hug really happened, it would have been seen by just the Reds’ and Dodgers’ beat writers, who might not have regarded it as anything significant.

    I wont even offer an opinion as to what happened because I don’t feel entitled to one.

    • SDG says:

      It’s funny. The sports press seemed completely determined to act like nothing unusual was going on, that Jackie was just another baseball player. Even the game where the Phillies manager went on a racist tirade and the players held up their bats like machine guns, it was mostly the non-sports media that talked about it. Not the contemporary beat writers. So ordinary bleacher-jockeying was never going to get any attention, and Pee Wee coming over to talk to his DP Partner probably wouldn’t have been seen as noteworthy. Also, the writers really, really didn’t want to talk about social issues. They didn’t want to be seen as favoring Jackie or giving him special treatment, and probably just thought “whatever, all fans get nasty to the visiting team”.

      I think it’s also worth noting that it’s not like sportswriters would have commented on fans yelling racist shit because it never completely went away. Don Drysdale’s first year was Jackie Robinson’s last, and in his autobiography he talks about hearing fans be absolutely horrible in a spring training game in New Orleans. So if Pee Wee embracing Jackie happened (and I’m of the opinion it did, but probably after 1947 and probably not in Cincy) I don’t believe any reporter would have noticed or said anything. Fans being racist would have been part of the wallpaper for them. It just wouldn’t have been a noteworthy event.

      • Blimey14 says:

        From Wendell Smith’s column in The Pittsburgh Courier, Oct. 11 1947, talking about Robinson and the World Series. After saying “Rizzuto, Stirnweiss, Lindell & Shea conversed with Robinson whenever they got on base”, Smith states “… Yanks on the bench dished out some name-calling to Robinson that would have made the Philadelphia Phillies blush, and they were supposed to have been champions in that phase of the game.”

      • Marc Schneider says:

        Another point is that using ethnic slurs as benchjockying material was common in baseball for all groups and, in fact, was frequently used in general conversation. Joe DiMaggio’s teammates often referred to him as the wop or dago. And, even outside of baseball, people often used what we would consider racial/ethnic slurs in normal conversation. So, at least for white, non-ethnic people, they might well not have seen anything as all that unusual. Now, the name calling against Robinson was certainly of a different order, but it just wasn’t that out of the ordinary in the 1940s. Plus, there were probably at least some of the writers that were not comfortable with Robinson so they weren’t celebrating him being there. Even those that liked the idea likely felt they had to walk a fine line in how to treat Robinson. In other words, perhaps they felt that it was better to downplay the issue rather than to stir up more potential animosity than already existed.

  5. Brian says:

    Sounds like the event happened as described, but just happened in Boston in 1948 instead of Cincinnati in 1947. That’s a lot different than saying it’s a myth.

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