Oh, what a story this would have been…
In the winter of 1955, a newspaper in Lawrence, Kansas picked up on a story out of Vancouver that would have brought our fair sport of baseball into a spotlight perhaps never seen.
The story, or rumour as it ended up being, was that the great Jackie Robinson was set to call it quits with the mighty Brooklyn Dodgers and take a position as manager of the 1956 Vancouver Mounties.
Robinson had just finished playing his ninth season in Brooklyn and had accomplished more during that span than perhaps any other in the history of the sport. When he stepped onto a Major League Baseball field for the first time on April 15th, 1947 - he became the first black man to ever suit up and take on the racial bias of baseball.
He was 28 in his first Major League season, with his only two seasons of professional baseball coming in 1945 when he played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues and a Minor League stint with the Montreal Royals (1946). Note: Robinson was in the US Military prior to his time on the professional diamond and also attended UCLA.
Fast forward to the winter of 1955, and suddenly Robinson was on the downside of his career. His path had been blazed, his name remained cherished by those who saw the game become 'right' with the inclusion of all ethnicities being allowed to step on a Major League Baseball diamond. Now, it was Robinson who toiled with the idea of perhaps looking at new challenges and opportunities - or so it seemed.
Perhaps it was a wee bit of negotiating from Robinson's camp, who at the time of the article published in the Vancouver Province, had yet to re-sign a contract with the World Champion Brooklyn Dodgers. Maybe the story was leaked by Vancouver Mounties owner Brick Laws who had just brought his ailing Pacific Coast League franchise up from Oakland (Oaks) and was looking to drum up some early interest and ticket sales.
Perhaps we'll never know.
Robinson, never ended up making the trip out west as he inked a one-year deal with the Dodgers to round out a ten-year career in the Majors, retiring at season's end just after his 37th birthday.
The Mounties, in their first season here in Vancouver, finished last in the Pacific Coast League (67-98) and were led by Manager Lefty O'Doul who was relieved of his duties at season's end. The following year, the Mounties went with American Charlie Metro who had a good working relationship with the Baltimore Orioles and finished second in the PCL. In 1959, Metro managed a different 'Robinson' named Brooks - a hard hitting third baseman - but that story is for another day.
Today, and every April 15th, we look back on the great Jackie Robinson and remember a man who took the weight of a society on his shoulders and changed the game forever. Regardless of race, he is worthy of the gesture put forth by every team in Major League Baseball on this day. Every player, on every team leaves their jersey number in the clubhouse and comes out wearing #42. It was Jackie's number, which no player in the sport wears anymore thanks to baseball's commissioner Bud Selig, who on April 15th, 1997 retired the number across the sport.
A gesture that is honoured here at Nat Bailey Stadium as well.