Aug 23, 2013 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
The new biographical feature film about Jackie Robinson declined to depict the infamous incident in which Syracuse Chiefs ballplayers taunted the black baseball pioneer by throwing a black cat onto the playing field. For decades, legend had it that the incident occurred at Syracuse’s MacArthur Stadium, but historical evidence indicates otherwise.
For the tenth year in a row, professional baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day on April 15, when every pro baseball player in America marks the occasion by wearing his uniform number, 42.
This year Hollywood also jumped on the bandwagon with the release of “42,” starring Chadwick Boseman as Jackie and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the Dodgers executive who brought Robinson to the big leagues and changed baseball forever.
Directed by Brian Helgeland (“Mystic River”), the Robinson biopic will be screened at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, and at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, at the Liverpool Public Library. Admission is free and refreshments will be served; lpl.org.
Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson became the first black major-leaguer of baseball’s modern era when he played first base and scored a run for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field, as the home team beat the Boston Braves, 5-3.
Black cat incident not in Syracuse
The year before, however, Robinson honed his skills in the International League as a member of the Montreal Royals.
As an International Leaguer in 1946, Robinson played in 17 games against Syracuse Chiefs, 12 during the regular season and five during the Governors’ Cup playoffs. Nine of his games against the Chiefs were played at Syracuse’s MacArthur Stadium and eight were played in Montreal.
Robinson found the Chiefs particularly nasty.
In his two autobiographies — “My Own Story” (1948) and “I Never Had it Made” (1972) — Robinson remembered, “Syracuse rode me harder than any other city in the circuit. They were tough on me both on the field and in the stands.” He recalled an incident in which a Chiefs player threw a live, black cat onto the diamond and shouted, “Hey, Robinson, here’s your cousin!”
The new biopic, “42,” fails to depict the infamous incident. The 1950 film, “The Jackie Robinson Story,” presented a watered-down version in which two fans taunt him with a black cat before Robinson walks over to them, takes the cat into his dugout and pets it.
For many years legend had it that the “black cat incident” occurred at MacArthur Stadium.
In his written autobiographies, Robinson remembers the umpire calling time out until the frightened cat — his so-called “cousin” — was removed from the field. But here’s where Robinson’s memory located the cat commotion not in Syracuse but at Montreal’s old Delorimier Stadium:
“Following this incident, I doubled down the left field line,” Robinson wrote, “and when the next player singled to center, I scored. Passing the Syracuse dugout, I said to one of the players, ‘I guess my cousin is pretty happy now.’”
Chiefs historian Ron Gersbacher, who lives in Clay, believes the black cat incident occurred when the Chiefs faced the Royals in Montreal, and baseball box scores bear him out.
On Wednesday, Aug. 7, 1946, the Chiefs played a game at Delorimier Stadium when Robinson walloped a double and scored a run as the Royals overwhelmed the visitors, 9-4. On the other hand, there’s no record of Jackie smacking a two-bagger to left during the games he played at MacArthur Stadium that year, so the historical record strongly supports Gersbacher’s theory.
“That black cat in Syracuse story is baloney,” Gersbacher said. “It never happened except in [the 1950] Hollywood movie of Robinson’s story … People saw the film and took it as fact.”
Regardless of where it happened, however, the feline fiasco still stands as a vivid and dramatic example of the kind of abuse directed at Robinson by intolerant fans and ballplayers alike.
Fifty years after the fact Chiefs second baseman Garton DelSavio told Post-Standard columnist Sean Kirst that his white teammates, several of whom hailed from the Deep South, “called Robinson some of the foulest names he’d ever heard, the worst things you can scream at another man.”
So the hostility was unpleasant and plentiful, but the prejudiced Syracuse Chiefs kept the cat in the bag until they came to Canada that summer.