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Roberts recalls Robinson's 'remarkable' gesture

@ToddZolecki
April 14, 2020

Jackie Robinson quietly entered the visitors’ clubhouse at Ebbets Field on Oct. 1, 1950. He came to shake hands and congratulate the players that just ended his season. Robinson moved from locker to locker. He acknowledged everybody before he left. Robinson’s graciousness struck Phillies ace Robin Roberts. “A remarkable display

Jackie Robinson quietly entered the visitors’ clubhouse at Ebbets Field on Oct. 1, 1950. He came to shake hands and congratulate the players that just ended his season. Robinson moved from locker to locker. He acknowledged everybody before he left.

Robinson’s graciousness struck Phillies ace Robin Roberts.

“A remarkable display of sportsmanship from a fierce competitor,” Roberts wrote in his memoir, “My Life in Baseball.”

Complete guide to 2020 Jackie Robinson Day

The Brooklyn Dodgers needed a win over Philadelphia on the final day of the 1950 season to force a one-game tiebreaker for the National League pennant. But the Phillies (aka, the Whiz Kids) spoiled Brooklyn’s shot and clinched their second pennant in franchise history instead. Dick Sisler hit a three-run home run in the 10th inning and Roberts pitched a complete game to beat the Dodgers, 4-1. Robinson went 0-for-3 against Roberts, who intentionally walked him to load the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning. Roberts worked out of the jam to keep the game tied.

Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day every April 15, the day Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Even though there is no baseball this Aprll 15 because of the coronavirus pandemic, we can still look back at Robinson’s influence on baseball and society. It is important to remember how Robinson changed the game, but also what he endured and overcame along the way. Philadelphia was a particularly brutal place for Robinson when he broke into the big leagues in 1947. Phillies manager Ben Chapman and others taunted Robinson with racial slurs and more.

Phillies pitcher Curt Simmons grew up in Allentown, Pa. He made his big league debut late in 1947.

“It was a rude awakening,” Simmons said in an interview in 2008.

But by the time Roberts joined the Phillies as a rookie in 1948, he said Chapman instructed his players to stop.

“Let him sleep,” Chapman said. “Anybody gets on him, I’m going to fine you.”

“Jackie had beaten their brains in so much that by ’48 they were convinced it wasn’t bothering him,” Roberts said in a 2008 interview.

“[Chapman] learned his lesson about Robinson,” Simmons said.

Robinson, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962, faced Roberts, who was inducted into the Hall in 1976, more than any other pitcher in his career. He hit .281 with five doubles, nine home runs, 21 RBIs and an .815 OPS in 176 plate appearances against him. The two became friendly from their time together on NL All-Star teams. They even golfed together.

“I consider it a privilege to have competed against Jackie Robinson, a man I very much admired,” Roberts wrote in his book. “We battled toe-to-toe many times, and I learned that sometimes the media misinterprets good hard competition. Years after I retired, I attended a banquet and Howard Cosell was at the head table. When Cosell saw me, he said to the head table, ‘Well, here is Robin Roberts, the man who disliked Jackie Robinson so much.’ Of course, Howard could not have been more wrong, but he somehow assumed that because I had competed so hard against Jackie that I had negative feelings about him. To the contrary, I had more respect for Jackie than virtually anyone I played against. He was a helluva ballplayer and an even better man.”

Robinson’s walk through the visitors’ clubhouse in 1950 convinced him of that.

“Think about that,” Roberts once told writer Joe Posnanski. “Think about how much class that took. I couldn't have done it. I’ll tell you that.”

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .