LOS ANGELES -- Wednesday is Jackie Robinson Day, one of the very best days of the year, and now back at Dodger Stadium after a rare April 15 road game last year for the Dodgers.
Today marks the 68th anniversary of Robinson's major league debut. He played first base and batted second in that game, and played first base all season. Robinson is mostly known as a second baseman, his primary position for his prime years of 1948-1952, but he also moved around quite a bit, seeing significant time in left field and third base as well.
But Robinson also played shortstop in one major league game, on September 22, 1953 against the Pirates. This was arguably the best Dodgers team of all time, finishing 105-49 though falling short in the World Series again to the Yankees. The Dodgers had already clinched the pennant 10 days before and this was Game 151 in a 154-game slate.
The club's regular shortstop was Pee Wee Reese, a Hall of Famer himself, was given a day off and Robinson, who hit .329/.425/.502 that year, batted cleanup and played his only game at shortstop.
In the game, Robinson walked all four times at the plate. Dating back to 1914, only twice has a Dodgers shortstop walked four times in a game, and both came in 1953. Reese did so earlier in the year, on April 19, also against Pittsburgh.
Cal Hogue, who issued all four walks to Robinson, issued one of the four walks to Reese five months earlier.
Robinson played shortstop with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues in 1945 before signing with the Dodgers, though in his one minor league season in Montreal in 1946 he played second base. That club's shortstop was Al Campanis, future general manager of the Dodgers for two decades.
In a January 31, 1946 article in the Miami News, Dodgers manager Leo Durocher talked about the possibility of Robinson as a shortstop:
"I went on and explained to [the players] that Pee Wee Reese is a pretty fair country shortstop - so if Robinson is a better ball player than Reese then the job is his," explained Durocher. "Of course I never saw Robinson play. I don't know what he's like. They tell me he's a nice boy and understands what's before him. He expects a riding. He'll have to be a helluva player to overcome a lot of things. But then - well, he expects that."
I'm not sure it's possible to expect or even prepare for exactly what Robinson endured to play in the majors. But the game is forever better because he did, and for that we are forever indebted to him.
Everyone in baseball will wear Robinson's number 42 on Wednesday, but the celebration packs a little more punch in Los Angeles. And to add to it this year, the series finale against the Mariners is also the 2015 Civil Rights Game.
Rachel Robinson will be a part of the first pitch ceremony, and will be joined by Sandy Koufax, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella's daughter Joni Campanella, plus scholars from the Jackie Robinson foundation. Also involved in the pregame ceremony will be Frank Robinson and Magic Johnson.
In addition to the SportsNet LA telecast, ESPN2 will cover Wednesday night's game, and the ESPN2 broadcast will not be blacked out. Jon Sciambi, Rick Sutcliffe and Doug Glanville will be on the call, with Glanville delivering an essay on Robinson at some point during the telecast.