Karl Lindholm: Uncle Robbie, Rough, and the Sox-Dodgers
How about this! The Red Sox and the Dodgers in the World Series.
Two of the game’s oldest and most storied clubs squaring off: Brooklyn joined the National League in 1890 and Boston played in the inaugural American League season of 1901.
They weren’t known as the “Dodgers” and “Red Sox” in their early days, but simply the “Brooklyn Nationals” and the “Boston Americans.” The Red Sox became the Red Sox in 1907, and the Dodgers not officially until after the 1918 season.
Though both clubs have long histories and rich traditions they have rarely met on the diamond.
They last played one another in the post-season over a century ago, in 1916. The Dodgers were known that year as the “Brooklyn Robins” after their jovial manager, Wilbert “Uncle Robbie” Robinson (one writer in his day called him “Falstaffian”).
The Robins weren’t much of a match for the Sox, who trimmed ’em in five games. The best player for Brooklyn in that Series (batted .386) was a 25-year-old rightfielder who became well-known in baseball years later in another role — Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel.
The Red Sox had a couple of pitching aces, 25-year-old righty Ernie Shore and 21-year-old lefty Babe Ruth. Shore picked up two of the four wins, but Ruth was brilliant in his only start, Game Two, pitching the Red Sox to a 2-1 win in 14 innings (a game that took only two hours and 32 minutes to play in its entirety).
The Red Sox third baseman in 1916 was Larry Gardner, UVM ’08, of the Enosberg Falls Gardners. He was an outstanding player for the team and was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2000.
Gardner hit two of the three home runs in the 1916 Series, one an inside-the-park homer to the cavernous center field in Ebbets Field and the other a fly ball over the short porch in right (301 feet).
The manager of that great team was Red Sox catcher Bill “Rough” Carrigan, who also led the Red Sox to the World Series title the year before. Babe Ruth said that Carrigan was the best manager he ever played for.
After the triumph of the Series, Carrigan immediately retired (at age 32!) to become a banker in Lewiston, Maine, his hometown, and mine too. I vividly remember my dad repetitiously pointing out a handsome house on Main Street, saying with evident pride, “that’s Bill Carrigan’s house!”
After that 1916 Series, the teams did not play one another again for 86 years until they met in 2002 interleague play (adopted in 1997). The Red Sox and the Dodgers have only played 15 games since then, with the Red Sox winning eight.
This year’s Series inevitably introduces considerations of race, as the Dodgers were first to sign a black player, Jackie Robinson, in 1945, after nearly 70 years of segregated ball — and the Red Sox were last team to have a black player in their line-up, Elijah “Pumpsie” Green, in July 1959.
The Red Sox history of racism and missed opportunities is well known. The club had a crack at Jackie Robinson, working him out in Fenway Park in spring 1945, in a palpable charade to allay public pressure to integrate.
The Red Sox also had the first shot at Willie Mays, the best everyday player ever. Their Triple A team in the mid-1940s was the Birmingham Barons and Willie played as a teenager alongside his dad on the Birmingham Black Barons in the same ballpark, Rickwood Field, as the white Barons.
With Mays as with Robinson, the Red Sox passed.
Think maybe the hopelessly mediocre Red Sox of the 1950s might have been a better club with Willie and Jackie alongside the splendid Ted Williams?
Both the Red Sox and the Dodgers have managers this year who would have been disqualified by race to play in the white professional leagues during segregation. Boston’s Alex Cora is a proud son of Puerto Rico, the island that produced the magnificent Roberto Clemente, one of the first Latin players in Major League Baseball and among the very greatest.
“I’m proud to represent Puerto Ricans around the world,” Cora said before the Series. “There’s a lot of people back home proud of me, but I’m proud of them (after Hurricane Maria)!”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts also talks proudly of his heritage. He is the son of an African-American soldier-dad and a Japanese mom who met in Okinawa, where Dave was born. He attended UCLA because Jackie Robinson went there and wears No. 30 to honor Maury Wills, early Dodger great, who taught him how to run the bases.
Roberts forever endeared himself to Red Sox Nation with his steal of second off Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yanks, a stolen base that propelled the Sox to an impossible series win and a sweep of the Cardinals in the World Series — and an end to the Curse of the Bambino.
Roberts got a standing ovation in Game One Tuesday night, rare indeed for the enemy skipper.
The greatest player on the Red Sox at the moment is an effusive young African-American, “Mookie” Betts, who replaced the irresistible David “Big Papi” Ortiz,” who himself succeeded the incomparable “Pedro” Martinez as the face of the Red Sox, the dark-skinned face of the Red Sox these days.
When I see a black player in the brilliant white uniform with “Red Sox” across the chest, I can’t fail but take note, and, in the nature of my generation, I experience a bit of a thrill.
You can’t change the historical record, but you don’t have to perpetuate its stain.
I got Boston in six.
Karl Lindholm Ph.D. is the Dean Emeritus of Advising at Middlebury College where he served for 34 years. He is offering the course “Segregation in America: Baseball and Race” again in Winter Term, 2019.