Friday, April 16, 2010

Tryout With Boston Red Sox

A mere 21 days and roughly six games after joining the Monarchs, Jackie Robinson found himself in Fenway Park, "trying out" for the Boston Red Sox. He was joined by Sam Jethroe of the Cleveland Buckeyes (who went on to be the 1950 National League rookie of the year) and Marvin Williams of the Philadelphia Stars. According to the April 28th Afro American,

"The players were brought (to Boston) by Wendell Smith, sports editor of the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, obviously to put to a test the promise of Boston major league club-owners to give players of all races an opportunity to make their teams. These promises were exacted by City Councilman H.Y. Muchnick, who threatened to fight the issuance of licenses for Sunday baseball unless the owners abandoned their jim-crow policy of employment of players."
Wendell Smith would be a key player in Jackie's signing with the Dodgers and Jackie's life; according to Nick Scala,

"One of the first people with whom (Branch) Rickey consulted at the start of his search was Smith, who wrote about the Negro Leagues for the Courier. It was Smith who recommended Robinson to Rickey, and the rest is baseball history. Smith’s history didn’t end with that recommendation, though. The former West Virginia State pitcher roomed with Robinson in 1946, when Robinson starred on the Dodgers’ minor-league affiliate in Montreal, and again during Robinson’s rookie season with Brooklyn in 1947, covering each historic moment for the Courier."
To placate Muchnick and the city council, Red Sox brass gritted their teeth and acquiesced to the try out. Smith knew it would generate plenty of press and force a few more eyes open to the gross injustice of segregation. The tryout in Boston came on the heels of a similar occurrence in Brooklyn at the beginning of the month in which Dave "Showboat" Thomas and Terris McDuffie were sprung on the Dodgers with a demand to have a look at them.

Robinson's performance in Boston stood out. The
Afro American reported that, "Robinson, swinging with smooth precision, reached the left field fence with several batting practice hits." The Chicago Defender said he "smacked two long drives that would have been homers in a ball game." Boston coaches said the right things, that they were "impressed" and the players "looked good."

Some selections from press coverage at the time:

Wendell Smith's eye-witness account from the April 21 Pittsburgh Courier:

Willie Bea Harmon in the April 20th & 27th
Kansas City Call:

"It is significant that Smith chose Jackie Robinson, Monarch shortstop as one of the players to make the tryout. In Robinson the Monarchs and Smith have two aces in the hole...If baseball is any one thing, that thing is big business. Robinson's name means big business if he can play ball. He is a rookie, but he's a great one according to Diz Dismukes and Manager Frank Duncan of the Monarchs...He's doing better than well at short and is hitting, too, according to Dismukes. Robinson's name is still magic in Sportdom, since he set such a great record at UCLA sometime back in football."

"...all (the three players at the tryout) got for their trouble was a little sweat, a train ride at the expense of the
Courier and a lot of mumbo-jumbo about how good they looked. That statement might lead one to believe that nothing was gained from the three donning Red Sox suits and working out...but that is not so. Don't you know that the Sporting getting the issue before the baseball public and don't you know that what the public demands it gets...Everytime a colored player dons a suit in one ofthe major league camps he breaks down one of the bars that keeps him from playing on major league teams. Don't you know that although Wendell Smith...was given the run-around at first that with the help of Councilman H.Y. Munchnick of Boston, Robinson, Jethro and Williams were given tryouts. Munchnick is a white man who has interested himself in the unwarranted discrimination against colored players...There are others like him...Let us continue to fight."
April 19th Sporting News:

"Three Negro players - first of their race ever given a tryout by a major league team (in Boston) - worked out at Fenway Park, April 16. Manager Joe Cronin and his coaches inspected the candidates for more than an hour, but as no Sox players joined the drills, it was difficult to get a line on the hitting of the aspirants. They will be given a later trial here."
April 28th Chicago Defender:

Howard Bryant has a fascinating chapter about the try-out in his book Shut Out. You can read it here.

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