Thursday, August 26, 2010

Jackie's Time With The Monarchs Ends As He Heads To Brooklyn To Meet With Branch Rickey

The Monarchs were in Chicago for a four game set with the American Giants over August 24-27th. The Monarchs had a series to forget on the field, dropping all four contests while being outscored 29 to nine. Booker McDaniels had a particularly rough game on the 26th, allowing 15 runs and 21 hits in eight innings. The Monarchs managed no runs and just one hit in the game.

Jackie Robinson and Clyde Sukeforth (source)

Off the field, however, it was a monumental series, even if no one knew it at the time. The Brooklyn Dodgers, in the person of scout/coach Clyde Sukeforth, made their first contact with Jackie at the game on Friday the 24th. According to Arnold Rampersad's Jackie Robinson: A Biography:
On August 24, at Comiskey Park, Jack was out on the field, but nursing a sore shoulder, when a white man called out his name and beckoned. Jack went over. The man introduced himself as Clyde Sukeforth, which meant nothing to Robinson. The he said he was there on behalf of Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Now he had Jack's attention. Mr. Rickey was starting a team, the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers. He wondered about Jackie's arm strength; could Jack throw a few balls for Sukeforth? The Dodger  scout would remember Jack listening "carefully, and when I was through he spoke right up--Jackie was never shy, you know."
"Why is Mr. Rickey interested in my arm?" Jack asked. "Why is he interested in me?"
Sukeforth convinced Robinson to meet him after the game at the Stevens Hotel, where the scout was staying, and where he bribed a bellman two dollars to allow Jack to use the passenger elevator, from which blacks were normally barred. Eventually Jack arrived and began to pepper Sukeforth with questions. One thing above all intrigued both men. Mr. Rickey had made it clear, as Sukeforth informed Jack, that if Robinson would not come to him, he would come to Robinson. Both Jack and Sukeforth now suspected that something more than a place on the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers might be at stake.
The men arranged to meet in Toledo, where Sukeforth had to observe another player,then take the train to New York. Sukeforth then sent a wire to Rickey telling of Jack's injury ("Player fell on shoulder last Tuesday [21st]. Will be out of game a few more days"). On Sunday night [26th], after the white scout convinced a ticket seller that, yes, he intended to share quarters with the black man, they left Toledo.
After a day of travel on the 27th, Robinson had his legendary meeting with Rickey on the 28th.

Robinson did go to the ballpark with his Monarchs teammates one last time on the 26th, but didn't play due to his injury. Chicago Defender sportswriter Fay Young had somehow gotten wind that Jackie might be heading east to meet with Rickey, and he questioned Jackie about it at Comiskey on the 26th. Young wrote in a September 1 column:
Between the doubleheader [on the 26th], your columnist flagged Robinson and asked him what there was to the rumors.
"Just rumors," answered Jackie.
Pressed for an answer to a simple question as to whether he had been invited, approached on the subject or not, Robinson evaded a direct answer.
Told that if it was such a secret , somebody had been doing some talking as too many, even to his club owner, knew about it, Robinson came back with a grin, "Well, it's a rumor. If you don't see me here tomorrow, then there's something to it."

September 1 Chicago Defender

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