Yesterday was the anniversary of a famous day in baseball and American race relations history. From Nationalpastime.com:
May 13, 1947: During the pregame infield practice, a barrage of racial slurs is directed at Jackie Robinson by the Cincinnati fans during the Dodgers’ first visit to Crosley Field this season. Brooklyn shortstop Pee Wee Reese, a Southerner from Kentucky with friends attending the game and captain of the team, engages the black infielder in conversation, and then put his arm around his teammate’s shoulder, a gesture that stuns and silences the crowd.
This episode in the well-known saga of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in baseball has taken on the status of legend. It is in the (excellent) biopic about Robinson, “42.” It was re-told in Ken Burns’ documentary “Baseball.” Most enduring of all, the moment is memorialized forever in the statue outside Dodger Stadium—well, forever until Robinson or Reese is cancelled because something unforgivable is unearthed in their past, whereupon UCLA students will pull the thing down as progressives cheer.
I’m preparing a program for the Smithsonian Associates on how baseball has influenced American values, culture, politics, language and society, so it is of special interest to me that there is considerable controversy over whether Reese’s mid-game gesture ever happened. Writes much-lauded baseball essayist Joe Posnanski,
“There is no mention at all of the embrace in the newspapers. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote that very day that Robinson “was applauded every time he stepped to the plate.” Meanwhile, there is no mention of it in the black press either; Burns insists that the embrace had happened, the black papers “would have done 15 related articles.” There is no photo of it. Robinson’s 1948 book about his first season called “Jackie Robinson: My Own Story” does not mention any such incident….There isn’t a single contemporary account of the embrace in any of the newspapers or magazines.”
Theories abound. The episode happened on a different date. It happened, but not in view of the fans. It is a story that accurately describes what Reese’s support of Robinson—Reese was a white southerner and a team leader, and he and Robinson did become close friends—meant to the black rookie as he battled abuse and racism in that first season of 1947, but there was no literal arm around the shoulder. Craig Calcaterra, recycling the controversy yesterday on his NBC blog, theorized, Continue reading