Saturday, 28 April 2012

"The unconquerable doing the impossible"

In a recent post I related my radio memories of Jackie Robinson's unphotographed, untelevised, unfilmed, season-saving catch and game-winning homerun on the last day of the 1951 season in Philadelphia. Here's part of Dick Young's report in the New York Daily News, October 1, 1951:

Before he could win the game with his no. 18 seat-smasher, Robby had to save it. He did it with as self-punishing and spectacular a money play as the 31,755 attending fans, thousands of whom had poured down from Brooklyn, will ever see... Eddie Waitkus shot a low, slightly looped liner to the right of second. It seemed ticketed for the hole, labeled Hit..... Game....Pennant.....But Robby diving face-first speared the ball an instant before he hit the ground. As he struck, his elbow dug into his stomach and he lay there in a crumpled heap. Many fans failed to realize he had held the ball until, in his pain, Robby rolled on his side and flipped the pill clear... And here he lay, for several minutes, while trainer Harold Wendler administered to him, trying to restore Jack’s breath, and clear his dazed head. Finally Robby wobbled to his feet and walked off the field to an ovation...

The photo above was taken moments after the catch. Pee-Wee Reese is ministering to Jackie, soon to be joined by Gil Hodges (14). Pitcher Don Newcombe described the scene:

[Robinson] dives after the ball, he catches the line drive in the webbing of his glove, and then hits the ground. His elbow hits him in his stomach. He rolls over, and then Pee-Wee runs over, and Gil runs over and then I run over from the mound to see if Jackie is all right... We don’t see the ball. We don’t see the ball at all. The umpire hasn’t yet made the out call. Jackie is laying on his stomach with the ball in the glove. When Pee-Wee got there and I got there, Jackie said, ‘I’ve got the ball.’ He was hurting because his elbow hit him in the stomach and he held onto the ball. God bless him... We worried about him whether or not he was unconscious. It could have been at least a minute before the umpire made the call. The umpire had to find the ball. Nobody could see it. It didn’t ricochet off Jackie. There was a roar from Dodger fans when Jackie got up, he had the ball.

As usual, Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Red Smith said it best:

The ball is a blur passing second base, difficult to follow in the half light, impossible to catch. Jackie Robinson catches it. He flings himself headlong at right angles to the flight of the ball, for an instant his body is suspended in mid-air, then somehow the outstretched glove intercepts the ball inches off the ground... Of all the pictures left in memory, the one that will always flash back shows Robinson stretched at full length in the insubstantial twilight, the unconquerable doing the impossible.

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