A DAY THAT WILL LIVE IN INFAMY: When Jackie Robinson Came To Town We Let Progress Down


PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS: Whatever degradation Jackie Robinson faced during the 1947 season – and it was immense – few teams treated him as disgracefully as the Phillies. To Jackie Robinson back in the spring of 1947, Philadelphia was far what it purports to be: “The City of Brotherly Love.” Before the Dodgers came to town for the first time, Herb Pennock [pictured, below right], the Phils’ general manager, telephoned his Brooklyn counterpart, Branch Rickey, and told Rickey he just could not “bring that nigger here with the rest of your team.”

“We are just not ready for that sort of thing,” said Pennock, the former Yankee pitching great. “We will not be able to take the field against your Brooklyn team if that boy Robinson is in uniform.”

“Very well, Herbert,” Rickey replied. “And if we have to claim the game (by forfeit) 9-0, we will do just that, I assure Herb_Pennock_1934you. ” MORE

THE PITTSBURGH PRESS: In 1948, at the age of 53, one week and four days before his 54th birthday, Pennock collapsed in the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was pronounced dead upon his arrival at Midtown Hospital. MORE

PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS: While Pennock, his players and assorted others had a hand in the despicable affair that unfolded – including the management of the Ben Franklin Hotel, which would not provide the Dodgers with rooms because the presence of that “nigra” – the chief culprit was Phillies manager Ben Chapman,[pictured, below right] long deceased but forever remembered for his hateful taunting of Robinson. Manfully – and with uncommon dignity – Robinson quietly endured the unrelenting array of insults that Chapman showered on him, even though he would later concede in his stirring autobiography, “I Never Had It Made,” that Chapman and his Phillies had “brought me nearer to cracking up than I ever had been.” […]

To elucidate just how unspeakably crude Ben Chapman was, an incident that occurred while he had been an outfielder for the Yankees back in the ’30s is commonly recalled: When some fans in the Bronx began jeering him one day, Chapman, born in Tennessee and raised in Alabama, turned to the crowd and called, “(Bleeping) Jew (bleeps). ” In his first encounter with Robinson, during a three-game series in Brooklyn back in April, he taunted the rookie with the shameful fervor worthy of the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.

Author Roger Kahn recounted the scene in his book, The Era. 

“Hey, you there,” Chapman shouted at Robinson. “Snowflake. Yeah, you. You heah me. When did they let you outa jungle…

“Hey, we doan need no nigger here…

“Hey, black boy. You like white [expletive], black boy? You like white pussy? Which one o’ the white boys’ wives are you (expletive-ing) tonight?”

Courageously, Robinson blocked it out — or tried to. Rickey had told him he would have to turn the other cheek in the face benchapmanof the racial slurs he was certain to hear or else it would jeopardize the black cause for years to come. So Robinson held his tongue. But there was a part of him that wanted to lash out at Chapman and the Phillies, some of whom at one point stood in row atop the dugout pretending to shoot tommy guns at Robinson as he walked up to home plate. MORE

NEW YORK TIMES: Receiving implicit backing from Phillies General Manager Herb Pennock, a former left-hander with the Yankees, Chapman chose to wage a relentless war with Robinson. He used the Philadelphia dugout as the fulcrum for his angry racial slurs as Robinson took his turn at bat. He encouraged his players to take their turns disparaging Robinson. Fulfilling his promise to Rickey, Robinson kept his cool. MORE

PHILLY SPORTS HISTORY: The incident made waves, and after two games of viciously hounding Robinson, Chapman was told by Commissioner Happy Chandler to sit out the third game of the series. The Phillies PR team tried to protect their franchise, which was getting lambasted by the press. They had Chapman meet with the black media, explaining that “bench jockeying” was a rich baseball tradition, that his team called DiMaggio “The Wop” and White Korowski “The Polack”. Riding the opposition was the Phils way.

A year later, Chapman was being hounded so mercilessly by the media and by fair-minded fans that Rickey had Robinson and Jackie Robinson with Even ChapmanChapman pose for a photo together as a conciliatory gesture. Chapman refused to shake Robinson’s hand for the photo, so they instead each man held the same bat. The Phillies franchise was hurt by the incident, and Chapman was out of baseball a year later. The Phils would not sign their first black player for 10 more years, the last team in the National League to do so. MORE

THE ATLANTIC: “All I can say,” he told me, “is that Ben [Chapman] really was a different man in his later years—he acknowledged the error of his old ways. I remember telling him that I was going out to a school in a black neighborhood to talk to kids about baseball, and he volunteered to go along. He talked to the kids and really seemed to enjoy it. To tell you the truth, I don’t think he had had the opportunity to do something like that before. I think he discovered something in himself that he didn’t know was there.” MORE

TIME: The Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution Thursday naming April 15 in honor of Jackie Robinson, officially apologizing for the racism he experienced when he visited the city in 1947. The apology will be presented to the baseball icon‘s widow, the Associated Press reported. Robinson died in 1972. […] “Unfortunately in Philadelphia, Jackie Robinson experienced some of the most virulent racism and hate of his career,” said Councilwoman Helen Gym, who introduced the resolution, ABC News reported. “Our colleagues decided to introduce this resolution to celebrate Jackie Robinson.” MORE

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