By: Greg Mitchell
The 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson?s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, when he broke the “color barrier” in major league baseball, receives a front-page teaser in today?s New York Times, with a lengthy article at the top of its lead sports page inside. It may amaze many to learn that on April 16, 1947, in its game coverage of Robinson?s groundbreaking debut, the Times barely mentioned him.
Robinson’s name does not appear in the headline or four decks for the story. The article by Roscoe McGowen mentioned Robinson only twice in describing routine game action, unrelated to anything of historical note.
A column by famed writer Arthur Daley, titled ?Opening Day at Ebbets Field, ? focused on the Dodgers? managerial problems. Daley did not get to ?The Robinson Debut? until two-thirds of the way along. He called Robinson’s start ?quite uneventful? and quoted an unnamed Dodger veteran saying the ?muscular Negro? will ?be accepted in time.? The Dodgers won the game 5-3, with Robinson batting second and playing first base.
The day before, previewing opening day in New York, the Times referred to the epic event as secondary to the Dodgers? managerial problems. The story said that ?special interest? throughout baseball on opening day ?is centered on the Dodgers” because the year-long suspension of manager Leo Durocher had ?upset the Brooklyn apple cart.?
Three paragraphs later, the reporter, Louis Effrat, finally observed, ?Another highlight in Brooklyn will be the actual big league bow of Jackie Robinson, Negro star. The first of his race to make the grade since 1884, Robinson will cover first base for the Brooks.?
Of course, in reality, blacks had not failed to ?make the grade? in big league baseball ? they had been shunned or banned.
The same article forecast a turnout of 34,000 that day at Ebbets Field. But for arguably the most important single game in baseball history, only 26,000 would show up. Some have suggested that many stayed away because of rumors of riots breaking out.
Baseball historians have suggested that the Times? low-key coverage was typical of the city?s other eight dailies in covering Robinson?s debut. Papers elsewhere in the country also gave it little ink — except the black press, which gave it the significance it deserved.