Posts Tagged ‘Walter F. O’Malley’

Jackie Robinson at Career’s End

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

I saw the movie “42” over the weekend and was stunned by its depiction of Jackie Robinson’s ordeal when he broke the color line and became the first black ballplayer in the major leagues. What’s needed now is a portrayal of the shabby way he was treated in 1956 as his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers came to an end.

Over his 10 seasons, Robinson mostly played second base and was one of the game’s most ferocious competitors. You didn’t want to be playing second base when Robinson got the sign to steal from first, and you didn’t want to be pitching with Jackie coming to bat in a clutch situation.

By the end of the 1956 season, Jackie Robinson had racked up a lifetime batting average of .311, had smacked 137 homeruns and stolen 197 bases. It would be instructive to count how many hits and runs his teammates made as a result of his ability to drive opposing pitchers crazy as he danced off the bases, threatening to steal, but I know of no such statistic.

He was an old 28 when he played his first game for Brooklyn and an ancient 37 when he played his last regular season game. Yet in that last game, even at 37, he went one for four at the plate, scored a run and drove in another as the Dodgers beat the Pirates at Ebbets Field.

We boys of Eastern Queens had watched Jackie Robinson for years. We loved his nerve, his talent, his determination, and maybe most of all, his courage to have survived the racist intimidation that major league baseball and some of its fans dished out so easily. We tried to run like him. We tried to stand at the plate like him. Soon, we knew he was slowing and wondered if he would wind up as a Dodger coach (maybe), the first black manager (was baseball ready for that?), maybe hold down a front office job in Brooklyn.

But no, none of the above.

In the highly skilled way that baseball club owners have of breaking their fans’ hearts, the Brooklyn front office had other ideas about Robinson and about the team. In the Dodgers’ case, the words “front office” meant only one man: Walter F. O’Malley, the team’s principal owner and a man who never understood the meaning of the word “loyalty.”

The Dodgers won the ’56 National League pennant and would again face the Yankees in the World Series. Admittedly, Robinson had a terrible post season, batting an anemic .174 in that seven-game series. Yet he also drew seven walks, stole two bases, scored four runs and drove in two more.

One month later, Walter F. O’Malley announced that Jackie’s days in Brooklyn were over. He had traded the great Jackie Robinson to the New York Giants. For Jackie, O’Malley got Dick Littlefield, a journeyman pitcher, and $10,000. Littlefield for Robinson? Was Walter F. O’Malley out of his mind?

Now I don’t pretend to know the nature of the discussions between Robinson and the Dodgers. Did he make unreasonable salary demands? Did he rub Walter F. O’Malley the wrong way? Was he demanding a long-term contract at age 37?

It didn’t matter. We were aghast to know that he wouldn’t be back. That he would be tantalizingly close uptown at the Polo Grounds. That we would root for him to get on base every time he faced a Dodgerpitcher. That, for better or worse, he was ours and we were his, and that’s the way it was supposed to be and the way it would have to be.

What is it about club owners? Remember when the Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee and then from Milwaukee to Atlanta telling the fans along the way to go to hell?

Remember when the Yankees unceremoniously dumped Elston Howard? After 12 years in the Bronx, they sent Ellie Howard, a fine catcher with a .273 lifetime batting average, to the Red Sox. What could be worse than that?

Early in January of 1957, Jackie Robinson made his own announcement. He was retiring from baseball and would not be available to be toyed with by the likes of Walter F. O’Malley.

Later that year, as though to prove his perfidy was boundless, Walter F. O’Malley moved the Dodgers, a money-making team, from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. It was a terrible time, and gave rise to the often reported colloquy between Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill.

Who were the three worst men in history? Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley.

What would you do if you had a gun with just two bullets and the three of them were together in a small room?

Shoot O’Malley twice of course.