Here on Jackie Robinson’s birthday, wanted to repost this story I wrote a couple of years ago.
When Bobby Bragan was young, people used to call him “Nig.” He was of a darker complexion than most. He liked the nickname. Bobby Bragan grew up in Alabama. The only black people he knew served food and worked for his father’s construction company. He did not even consider that his nickname might be offensive to anyone until he reached the Major Leagues and a teammate told him.
Bragan began his big-league career as a shortstop. He couldn’t hit, and he was an erratic fielder … an unhappy combination. In 1940, as a rookie, he made 49 errors. A year later he made 45 more. That’s when he realized that becoming backup catcher was safer. He was traded to Brooklyn in 1943 and a couple of years later went to war. When discharged in 1947, he traveled straight to Cuba and Dodgers spring training. He wanted to reclaim his job as backup catcher.
That was Jackie Robinson’s spring.
That was also Dixie Walker’s spring.
Dixie Walker was the most beloved player in Brooklyn. He was a gifted hitter — he finished second in the MVP voting to Stan Musial in 1946 — and, as Jonathan Eig writes in Opening Day, he had an aw-shucks Southern humility that drew people in. Musial was the Man in St. Louis. In Brooklyn, they called Walker “The People’s Cherce” — “Cherce” being Brooklyneese for “Choice.”