The 1940s were the beginning of the Dodgers' emergence as a powerhouse and a historical first as Brooklyn broke baseball's color line with the signing of Jackie Robinson.
Under the guidance of Leo Durocher, who became the Dodger manager in 1939, the Dodgers in 1941 won their first National League pennant in 21 years with a 100-54 record and played the first of their classic World Series confrontations against the New York Yankees.
Outfielder Pete Reiser was dynamite in 1941. Reiser led the league in batting, runs scored, total bases, slugging percentage and triples, while teammate Dolph Camilli topped the league in home runs and RBI and was honored as the National League MVP. Whit Wyatt and Kirby Higbe paced the pitching staff with 22 victories apiece.
The Dodgers in 1942 won four more games than the previous year, but finished second to the St. Louis Cardinals. Over the next three years, the Dodgers finished third, seventh and third, respectively. During World War II, many Dodger players were called to military duty.
With the end of the war in 1945, Brooklyn came back in 1946 and put together a big season, going 96-60, and finished tied for first with the St. Louis Cardinals. The two teams played the first-ever playoff series, but it was not a happy one for the Dodgers as the Cardinals won the pennant and went on to win the World Championship.
No playoff series was necessary in 1947 as the Dodgers won the National League pennant by five games over the Cardinals. That was not the only big story in 1947 as Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues. In 1945, Robinson had signed a contract with Dodger President and General Manager Branch Rickey. In 1946, the former UCLA star endured his first year of professional baseball playing for the club's top minor league affiliate, the Montreal Royals.
In 1947, Robinson was given an opportunity with Brooklyn. Rickey's thorough research to find an exceptional African-American player was evident in his quote: "I'm looking for a ballplayer with enough guts not to fight back." He found his man in Robinson, who faced all forms of abuse and pressure. The more Robinson was taunted and threatened, the more he let his performance on the field speak for himself. Overcoming the critics and the prejudice, Robinson became one of the great stars of the game, later becoming the first African-American elected to the Hall of Fame. In his first season, Robinson hit .297, scored 125 runs and stole 29 bases en route to being the first-ever Major League Rookie of the Year.
In the 1947 World Series, the Dodgers fell to the Yankees in seven games, but there were two memorable moments for the Dodgers. Cookie Lavagetto broke up Bill Bevens' no-hitter in the ninth inning of Game 4 with a game-winning two-run double to give the Dodgers a 3-2 victory; and Al Gionfriddo's great catch of a Joe DiMaggio ball which preserved an 8-6 victory in Game 6.
Leo Durocher returned as manager of the Dodgers in 1948 after being suspended for the 1947 season. Durocher, though, lasted only half the season and was replaced by Burt Shotton, who guided the Dodgers in 1949 to their third pennant of the decade. Robinson was named the N.L. Most Valuable Player and pitcher Don Newcombe won Rookie of the Year honors. The Yankees, though, again defeated the Dodgers in the 1949 World Series.