I saw 42 tonight. It’s the new movie about Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough with the 1946 Montreal Royals, and then with the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers as the first black player in modern Major League Baseball.

rickeyThe movie’s a bit cheesy, redeemed mainly by the glorious story it recounts, and by a wonderful performance from Harrison Ford as Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey—the man who spearheaded baseball’s integration.

There are some nice touches, as when Rickey picks Robinson’s bio out of a stack of Negro League player reports he’s considering.

“He’s a Methodist,” notes Rickey. “I’m a Methodist. God is a Methodist. It should work out well.”

jackie-robinson-montreal 3Growing up in a liberal family in a 1950s New York suburb, I was weaned  on Robinson’s story, and I rooted passionately for the Brooklyn Dodgers. But tonight I learned an obscure detail that had never registered with me.

In the summer of 1945, Robinson had just been released from World War II army service and was batting .381 for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. On August 28, 1945, Rickey summoned him to a three-hour meeting in his Brooklyn office, where he taunted the 26-year-old player with racial epithets.

“You want someone tough enough to fight back?” asked Robinson.

“No,” said Rickey. “I want someone tough enough not to fight back.”

He signed the 26-year-old player to a contract with the Royals, a Dodger farm team.

On that same day, 300 miles to the northwest, in Children’s Hospital, Buffalo, NY, Flora Best Donham, 31, was cradling her fourth child, a day-old baby boy.

That would be me. You could say I was born the day before they integrated baseball.

Vin Scully – reader feedback – updated

Our post on Vin Scully, 81, who just wrapped up his 60th season calling play-by-play for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers (and plans to stay on through next season), elicited some wonderful reader comments.

First, Frank MacDonald (yes, that Frank MacDonald, the other Inverness County writer who deserves a Giller):

Enjoyed your reminder of the Koufax perfect game. In my own writing during the baseball season, the game plays the role for me that music plays for many others. Even when it is televised, as it mostly is in this house, it is two rooms away, and the sound of the game (changes in pitch tell me to go see) is soothing as a lullaby.

Unfortunately, current commentators seem more interested in sounding off as if their own opinions are more important than the game (a lot like newspaper columnists that way, I guess), but none of them tell stories any more, just data reports from fact sheets in front of them.

Anyway, it was a pleasure to read what I once listened to.

Frank also sent us the lyrics to a baseball song he wrote.

Contrarian friend Cliff White also likes the sound of a baseball game:

I love the piece on Vin Scully. I’m in no way a sports fan but I remember baseball on the radio from a very young age. There is something about the slow rhythms of game that radio captures and transmits perfectly, but that get completely lost on television.  It’s actually two entirely different games.

The record of the Koufax game took me back decades, to when baseball was a major part of Nova Scotia summer culture.  And this from a non fan, that’s real power.

It’s difficult if not impossible to catch major leage games on radio in most parts of Nova Scotia, but here’s a little secret to remember next March: $15 (US) will buy you a year’s subscription to the radio broadcasts every Major League baseball game, regular and post-season, with a few spring training games thrown in. Then you can listen on your computer or your iPhone, just like the good old days.

Hugh Fraser, the former press secretary to Premier John Hamm who now toils for Bristol Communications, sent kind comments about Contrarian, and a recommendation:

If you’re a baseball fan, I suspect you’ve already been reading Doug Glanville’s occasional columns in the NYTimes. They are great — insightful and addictive. I’m a big Roger Angell fan and I think Glanville’s baseball writing approaches his.

Anyhow, keep up the good work. Better luck with the Dodgers next year.

Ah, Hugh, Dem Bums left town in 1958. Contrarian roots for the Jays now, and sometimes the Sox, and he still hates the Yankess.

Miles Tompkins remembers how the World Series played out on his family’s Margaree farm in the 1950s:

My mom, who knew more about baseball then my father ever did, came to Margaree from Antigonish in the 1950s. We had a large farm and in the fall there were plenty of potatoes to pick. My mother had two jobs: feed the pickers, and come to the front step at the end of every half inning to give the lowdown on the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Yankees. More then once she saw a bucket of potatoes kicked over after a Yankee home run.

Contrarian reader Stan Jones points out that, with the $9.98 MLB app for the iPhone, you get to choose which team’s announcers you want to listen to. You also get one or two free telecasts every day. By contrast, Stan reports, the NBA app isn’t nearly as good, and the NHL has… nothing.

Frank MacDonald’s baseball song

Frank MacDonald also sent us a song he wrote “many years ago.”

“There has never been a musician I could interest in it,” he writes. “Not being a singer myself, I converted into a talking blues that I entertain myself with from time to time in the car, As a old Brooklyn Dodger fan, you may enjoy it. As a Cleveland fan my chances to enjoy things have been few and far between since 1954.”


He lived on a park bench, reading baseball box scores
And paid his way doing odd and end chores.
But he loved to remember when baseball was magic,
And said, “What happened to baseball was tragic.”
But from the deep center seats, he still coached every game
And cheered a good play, while adding, “It still not the same.”
And he’d go on about what it used to be like
When ball payers were ball players and a strike was a strike


He was the sandlot kid, dreaming things he never did,
A Triple A player without major league flair
Who grew old in a slum, happy to be a bleacher bum
Who loved every game he took in,
and died wishing the Dodgers would move back to Brooklyn

He’d talk to strangers over his coffee cup
About players that he’d met on their way up
“Duke and Mickey and Peewee and Stan
All thought I coulda been a big league utility man
He remembered their names, though they all forgot his
And he kept them alive from that time until this
At a Little League game, everyone stared when he roared
“Hang in there, kid, you look just like Whitey Ford!”

When the team was working out, he sat alone in the stands
He’d been tagged out trying to score on his plans
Just a tired old man in a battered baseball cap
A might-have-been waiting his turn at the bat
And yesterday, yes he’d of gone to the game
But he was tired and glad it was called by rain
And he lay down with an illness that never healed
And left a sad little note, saying “Bury me in Ebbet’s Field.