SPORT Magazine – Jackie Robinson’s bold play in the World Series

This article originally appeared in the November 1956 issue of SPORT Magazine. It was a year after Jackie Robinson won his first World Series title with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson had participated in four World Series before 1955. All of them were against the New York Yankees. After the Dodgers made it to the finals, Robinson spoke to SPORT Magazine about the series. This story has been condensed to save space and clarity.

I GO ABOUTThe World Series requires a different mindset than what I use during regular season. I play differently in the Series.

It's because of two things. Second, you need to work hard to avoid allowing your natural tendency to relax and let go after you win the pennant. This is especially important if you don’t win it until the end. Although this might not be true for your first World Series because you are still excited about the experience of playing in it, it is something to think about after you've been involved in many more. The second thing you need to remember is that the World Series can be won or lost in a matter of minutes. You can easily determine which team is going home with the most wins in a 154-game series. But in a seven­-game series, or shorter, you get a couple of bad breaks and you're practically out of it.

Similar to what happened with the Indians in 1954. It might have been a different story if they had won the first game at the Polo Grounds. They lost it 5-2 on Dusty Rhodes' home run in the tenth. Vic Wertz had been robbed of a long strike that would have ended the game. They didn't win the game. The breaks were against them, and they crumbled.

The problem is that breaks are crucial in the Series. But you cannot wait for them to happen. You must force them to happen.

That was the first game of last year. This was my fifth Series with Brooklyn. We'd lost four of the previous four. Always to the Yankees. We had been losing them all but we kept playing in the same way, never trying any other-and getting beat every time. We lost 6-3 in the eighth inning of that first game. The team was simply playing baseball. There was no spark. It was all I could think of, “We have to get this going.” Carl Furillo walked to the center, and Gil Hodges threw a fly ball at Elston Howard. Then, I rapped an out-of-bounds grounder that Gil McDougald couldn’t hold. Furiilo went up to third, and Furiilo wound up at second. Don Zimmer flied to Irv Noren left center, and Carl and I both tagged up following the catch. Carl scored and I went for third.

Our third-base coach Billy Herman walked up to me and said the following: “The only way you can get is if there's a big jump.” He was basically telling me to not steal it. I was worried about how things were going. I thought that if there was a way to make the ball club feel a bit more positive, it might help. As I said, in a World Series one cannot just rely on the bunt, hit-and-run or orthodox play. Standing out there, I noticed that Whitey Ford (the Yankees' pitcher) wasn't paying much attention to me as I ran up the third base line on the first pitch. With us trailing by two runs, he didn’t think I would try it. I decided to take it all on him, if it seemed possible. Although it wasn't a winning play and we didn’t win, I believe that the steal gave the ball team a chance. After the game, I felt there was a change in attitude at our clubhouse than if we had just lost quietly, 6-4.

While I'm aware of the criticisms that were made about the steal as stupid baseball, I disagree. I gambled that a huge steal would pay off in the whole Series. Even though we needed two runs in order to tie the game, it was much easier to get the second run if you already have one. We knew we had a good chance of making it with the help of our big hitters.

There were many photos in the papers that should have shown that I should be called out. I'm not sure. There were also pictures taken from the third-base side of the field that ·came out later in the week and that showed I was safe. Yogi didn't throw the ball to me even though my foot was on the plate. You could still see daylight between them. He could only have tagged me and been going away. That was the only way I could have been out.

The only thing that caused the uproar about the steal was the fact that all the stories and photos were meant to reflect poorly on Bill Summers, the umpire who had to call a very close play. Berra did have a good kick but it shouldn't be celebrated so much after the Series ended. Nobody disputes decisions more than I do, but I don't keep complaining about an un­important safe-or-out play for days after it's over.

All in allThe Yankee baseball team in the last Series was not what I expected. However, I knew that we would be back waiting for the next Series if we didn't go all out. Mantle was limping around and DiMaggios Reynoldses, Henrichs, and Raschis were gone. But I kept reminding myself that anything can happen in a brief series.

Whitey Ford won the first game 6-5, but we didn't lose much. We were getting some good wood on the ball, even though Tommy Byrne only gave us five hits and beats us, 4-2, in the first game at Stadium. We thought that if we had been play­ing in Ebbets Field, we'd have taken him. When we finally got to Ebbets Field we felt confident and were far from being a beaten team.

We went all out. I determined to do everything possible and made it clear that I would not be content to just sit still. I ran a lot faster than I had ever done in a Series, and I also did more hooting. I wanted to ensure that we didn’t wait for breaks to arrive and then suddenly wake up to find that we had run out of balls games and had blown another one.

Gil Hodges, who was playing against Bob Turley in the third game, started the second inning with a fly ball to Bob Cev. Then, I singled to center and moved to second when Turley hit Sandy Amoros with a pitching ball. Johnny Podres laid a good bunt down the third-base line and they didn't have a play any­where. Turley had taken Johnny's bunt, and had bobbled it for one second. I knew Turley wasn't happy with the way things were going. It's no surprise that he is known for being wild. I decided to cause as much trouble as I could. I went up and down the line like I was bound and deter­mined to steal home. But, there was only one out. The bases were loaded and Gilliam Reese Snider and Campanella were coming up. I didn't think it was possible. Billy Herman actually came to me and said, “Hey, there’s only one out.” Don't go!” I didn't go, but I had a feeling Turley wasn’t sure. I yelled for the Amoros to look at me because I was going, and I went as high up as Turley would allow me to without actually taking his base. I think I may have had it easier a couple of times. Turley looked really upset. Turley was unable to look away from me and couldn't throw balls when he got to pitch to Gilliam. I remembered how Earl Torgeson had stolen home on Turley during the sea­son, with the bases loaded and two out, to win a ball game for Detroit, and I was pretty sure that Turley was thinking of it, too.

It's not unusual for a man to have such traumatic events in his head. He loses a ball game in a certain way, and he remem­bers it. He is scared that it will happen again. So I kept honking, Watch me, watch me. And I kept daring to him by climbing up the line. He gave Gilliam the walk, and I was sent home. We had not only a cheap run, but we also got the pitcher out. Stengel called Turley out, and put in Tom Morgan.

Another example of what I mean was in the same ball game. It was the seventh. Tom Sturdivant pitched for the Yankees, and I hit a double down third base. I'm quite quick and I saw that Elston Howard was throwing as I was rounded second. As I slowed down, my movements became more fluid and I thought I would go for third. I was watching Elston close, and he came up with this strictly overhand throwing motion, and as soon as he came overhand, I was posi­tive he was going to throw to second and try to catch me off. I realized that he couldn't fake it, so I turned and tossed to third. If he did that, I was certain I could return to second. Once I was certain he would throw, I ran for third as fast I could. It was easy.

Because I know that I will go for the extra base nine times out of ten, no outfielder is going to throw the ball behind me on bases nine out of ten. Elston thought I was hung up after I made the big turn. It was a good play. The entire thing was the motion. He wasn't afraid to tell the truth about what he was planning to do. Irv Noren threw behind my back in one of the Stadium games, but the main difference was the motion. I was unsure of where he was going with the ball. He looked like he was going to throw to third but instead he threw it to second and I had to scram­ble back the best way I could.

We also got a run out. Sandy Amoros, who was on third base, hit a ball that reached right field and went through the infield. If the infield had been back the way it was with me at second, it likely would have been an RBI.

On the bases, you must be alert at all times. It applies to all ball games, but it doubles in the World Series.

IN A SHORT SERIESThe manager must be more alert. The Series was a success last year thanks to Walt Alston. He didn't quit; he didn’t panic. After the Stadium lost its first two games, Ebbets Field held a meeting with us. He told us he knew our team was a good one and had seen us bounce back before. We were to prove that we still have the same ball club. It had an impact on the ball club. It did, I'm sure.

Walt is not a great man for meetings. He doesn't usually like talking. However, he will often say something because he has thought about it and he intends to use it.

During the season, under Alston, we have a clubhouse meeting usually be­fore each new series with a different ball club-under Dressen we used to have a meeting every day-but in the Series we met before every game to talk over the hitters. You don't really know these hitters and sometimes you just start pitching them as you were told by your scouts. Sometimes, however, you realize that they are taking a good look at the ball differently. As last year, we were told to pitch Elston in the interior. In his first game, he scored on a high-inside pitch. We went back over him after the second game.

We noticed his wide stance when he hit the ball, which was causing him to fall away from the pitch. When you pitched him in, you were supporting him by following him with the ball. He had to hit the ball, from the way it looked to us. We started to pitch him out instead of in and he didn’t end up hurting us as much in the second game. We kept the ball away from him and he fell away, so he couldn’t get the good end of the bat.

Elston might have been trying to hit the ball too hard after his first-game homer. It happened to me in 1952. In the second game at Ebbets Field, I led the way and hit a homerun into the lower left. Right away, I got homer-conscious. Now I realize that I'm not a good home-run hitter. I was swinging for the homerun and it cost me my entire Series. I was too fast swinging. It's fine for the big free-swingers, Hodges, Duke and Campy. They need to swing hard. But I should only meet the ball. It is only by accident that I have hit homers. If I hit the ball a little below the ball, rather than hitting it straight on, I will get a little more loft and I'll score a homer. If it happens by accident, it is okay. It doesn't matter if I forget who and what I am and begin trying to do it.

Even the strongest men can get into trouble by swinging too much. Duke Snider. He's a big, powerful guy any­way, and when he swings hard with his feet on the ground, he's a great hitter. He's dangerous when he gets too excited. He is so strong, he doesn’t even need to reach for the ball. He forgets to be himself every now and again, and tries too hard.

I believe that a lot of our problems in winning the World Series was due to trying too hard. We didn't choke up, as many people claimed. It was more a case of our being over­anxious and not playing our real game, plus the fact that the Yankees always managed to come up with that one big man at the right moment. See the work Billy Martin did for '53. There was also Allie Reynolds. Or, back in '49, Tommy Henrich. We were defeated by the breaks. One or two of their guys would get very hot. As I said, the breaks worked in our favor this year. Nobody is saying that the Yankees choked down.

I have never been in a series of really big numbers and I have never been accused of choking, as that is not what I am known for. Pee Wee, Carl Furillo, Campy, and Pee Wee are not going to choke up. We don't have any choke-up ball clubs.

Of course, after we'd been in two, three, and then four World Series, and still hadn't won one, I'll admit I be­gan to wonder if we were ever going to win one. It didn't bother me, but I tried to ignore it. In the first Series, I was anxious. Last year, though we lost the first two series, it felt like it would be the same old thing over and over. I slept like an ox every night, even though it seemed as though it would be the same old thing. I went into the ball game wanting to win des­perately but knowing that as long as I was doing the best I possibly could, I couldn't do anything more.

THE KIND OFBear-down competitors that will cause you problems in a short series. They don't care about what might go wrong. They play to win and expect to win. This is the only way to win the World Series. Your attitude can make a difference in whether you win the Series or not. Many ballplayers worry about how they will look if they make a big play in the Series.

Johnny Podres will be my World Series partner. He was the last person I will ever forget, even though he won the seventh game of the series last year. He said, “These guys won't beat me,” before we set out onto the field. “They can't defeat me.” They are afraid of me. He meant it, too. He meant it so clearly that everyone got the fever. When we went on the field, not a single man in Brooklyn knew we were going to lose.

Myself, I am eager to be able to live out what I preach here. After all these years, I finally gave my World Series championship band to Rachel last winter. Now I want one for myself.

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