Friday, August 20, 2010
PBS show discovers Jackie Robinson
It's always a bit disorienting when "outsiders" enter our insulated little world ...
Production crew members from PBS' "History Detectives" were in Cooperstown this summer to try to uncover another mystery.
For this investigation, one of the hosts, Tukufu Zuberi, visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame to try to clear up one of baseball's uncertainties: Was Pittsburgh the site of integrated Major League Baseball before Jackie Robinson became a Brooklyn Dodger?
The answer will be revealed on the show at 9 p.m. Monday.
While in Cooperstown the crew interviewed National Baseball Hall of Fame researchers and baseball fan Jason Mishelow from Milwaukee. Mishelow said he found a scorecard from a game between two unusual teams: The Majors' All Stars and Robinson's All Stars. Robinson's team was made up of both black and white players, yet this game appears to have occurred before Robinson became the first black major leaguer.
Could this game have been a test to find out how America would react to integrated baseball? To find out the answer, PBS said to tune in to the PBS show "History Detectives," which is in its eighth season.
Umm, there's not much of a mystery here.
I've done a fair bit of research regarding barnstorming in October 1946, and I've found references to five games games pitting Jackie Robinson's All-Stars again Honus Wagner's Major League Stars.
Wagner's Stars didn't actually have many (if any) stars. Robinson's All-Stars, on the other hand, included four future Hall of Famers: Monte Irvin, Roy Campanella, Larry Doby, and of course Robinson himself. But -- and here's what makes this team more than just a little interesting -- there were at least three white players on the team, too. One of them, pitcher Mike Nozinski, had been Campanella's teammate on the Nashua, New Hampshire club (New England League) that season. The other two, Al Campanis and Marvelous Marvin Rackley, had been Jackie Robinson's teammates with Montreal (International League).
According to contemporary reports in The Sporting News, Robinson's All-Stars played Wagner's All-Stars in Cincinnati, Youngstown, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Cleveland. I've not been able to find further proof of the games in Cincinnati and Cleveland, but I do have box scores for the other three games.
This is a story that's never really been told. I've combed through every book that's been written about Jackie Robinson. There are a lot of them, and somehow not one mentions this quick barnstorming tour. But the historical significance seems to me negligble. Robinson did lead an integrated team through a few Midwestern cities, where integrated teams -- integrated teams featuring top talent, anyway -- probably hadn't been seen before.
But by the fall of 1946, integrated teams were nothing new. For the previous five months, Nashua and Montreal had been playing integrated baseball throughout the Northeast. The only thing different about Jackie Robinson's All-Stars was that this time, the white players were in the minority. And it's a real stretch to suggest that those games constituted "Major League Baseball."
Still, I'm looking forward to seeing the show.