Saturday, 26 February 2011

Dixie and Kirby (Part 1)

September 7, 1946:  Ebbets Field, Dodgers vs. Giants, big crowd, red-hot pennant race with the Dodgers chasing the Cardinals.  It was Ford Day; each Dodger was given a new automobile before the game.  Ballplayers didn't make tons of money in those days, so these freebies meant something to them.  My father’s friend worked for a big Ford dealership, so we got super-deluxe box seats.  I asked (okay, told) Dad to snap the picture when Dixie Walker, my favorite Dodger, was presented with his car.  The tall, balding, out-of-focus player standing behind home plate is Dixie.  He was everyone's favorite.  "The People's Choice," they called him -- or, as the sportswriters often put it, "the Peepul's Cherce."

We beat the Giants that day, 4-1.  Kirby Higbe, our ace, pitched a one-hitter; the only Giants’ hit was a homerun by Ernie Lombardi.  By the end of the day, we were just a game and a half out of first place.

As I look at it now, this photo has an elegiac quality.  It’s the last month of the last season of pre-Jackie Robinson major league baseball.  We didn't know it then, but our heroes Dixie Walker and Kirby Higbe had already expressed to management their unwillingness to play on the same team as a black man.  We never suspected their days in Brooklyn were numbered.  Eventually Walker’s views would evolve.  Higbe himself later wrote that the coming of Jackie Robinson in 1947 was "the end of what you might call the Babe Ruth era and the beginning of modern professional baseball."

It’s true, it was the end of an era.  At the time, we thought we were just watching a ballgame.

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