Good morning, it's Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Seventy-four years ago today, the Brooklyn Dodgers finished the preseason by completing a three-game exhibition series with the New York Yankees. The history books say that baseball's color barrier was broken on April 15, 1947 -- opening day. But for the man who broke it, Jack Roosevelt Robinson, it began four days earlier, on April 11, in the first of the Dodgers' exhibition games against the Yanks.
Playing first base flawlessly on April 11, 1947, Jackie Robinson went hitless, but drove in three runs with sacrifice flies. On Saturday, April 12, Robinson singled in his team's only run. Sunday brought another single, and another RBI. He clearly belonged. But what a story!
"Next time I go to a movie and see a picture of a little ordinary girl become a great star, I'll believe it," Robinson explained later that week. "And whenever I hear my wife read fairy tales to my little boy, I'll listen. I know now that dreams come true."
Brooklyn fans, white and black, felt the same way. The three-game exhibition series drew some 80,000 fans to Ebbets Field, which was unheard of in those days. The New York Times called Robinson a "magnet."
Americans had known for more than a year that the Dodgers were intent on being the first major league team to integrate. They'd signed Robinson, a college infielder who'd also been an All-American football player and track star at UCLA, and assigned him to their farm team in Montreal. There, he had played with another black player, a pitcher named Johnny Wright whom some contemporaries said threw harder than Satchel Paige. In 1946, the Dodgers also signed Don Newcombe, another Negro League player, and a sensationally talented black catcher named Roy Campanella. So the table was set and on the weekend of April 11-13 in 1947 the meal was served. It started ordinarily enough.
"Robinson, how are you feeling today?" interim Dodgers manager Clyde Sukeforth asked him.
Robinson said he felt fine.
"Okay," Sukeforth said, "then you're playing first base for us today."
With no more fanfare than that, everything changed. In some ways, Jack Robinson was a pioneering hero helping this country live up to the soaring promise of its founding documents. In other ways, he was like every rookie who ever wanted a break and got it -- and was thrilled at being elevated to The Show.
"The game started and I found myself at first base," Robinson recalled. "I was the Brooklyn first baseman. The day before I had been Montreal's first baseman. ‘What a difference a day makes,' I said to myself. When the umpire said ‘Play ball!' I finally starting thinking baseball. I finally realized that I was a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers; that I had made the big leagues."
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.