Saturday, 26 February 2011
Dixie and Kirby (Part 2)
1946, a few weeks later. I call this photo Me ‘n’ Kirby Higbe in Schul. Organized religion and I never really took to each other. My appearances at services were few, and even they required strenuous parental cajolery. But tell me Kirby Higbe will be signing autographs at the local synagogue and I’m there in a flash! I’ve even got an extra pen in my breast pocket, just in case Kirby’s runs dry in mid-autograph. Better safe than sorry. Meanwhile the other kids seem fascinated and delighted by Higbe’s uncanny ability to write his own name.
The more you know about Higbe the funnier the photo gets. He was what sportswriters called a “colorful” character. In 1946 we fans knew nothing about ballplayers’ private peccadillos. It seems Ol’ Hig had peccadillos aplenty, freely described in his autobiography The High Hard One. One story I’ve heard has him defending himself against some allegation with: “It must have been another Kirby Higbe.”
I often wonder what this picaresque character from Columbia, South Carolina is thinking as he performs his community-relations duties for the ballclub, signing and schmoozing in a little Brooklyn synagogue. I’d like to think it’s something like: “These kind folks help pay my salary, and I’m renting an apartment in Bay Ridge anyway, so it’s no big deal.” Or it could be something more “colorful.”
Within two years after this photo was taken, Kirby Higbe and the beloved Dixie Walker would be dealt to Pittsburgh. The deals shocked and outraged us. What we didn’t know was that Branch Rickey was building a new baseball dynasty in Brooklyn, and wanted harmony on his racially integrated team. We would lose the 1946 pennant race to the Cardinals in a playoff; but next season we would win the pennant, thanks in part to a rookie who played the game in an exciting, new way; a superb athlete and intense competitor with the kind of audacious baserunning skill we hadn’t seen before. I still have an old comic book devoted to him.
From 1947 on, baseball, Brooklyn, and America would be changed.