Jackie Robinson and bad calls by MLB umpires

I just saw the latest “Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier in baseball” movie (there have been many included one that starred Robinson as himself). Being somewhat young I’ll never understand the way he was treated back then, seems completely insane to me.

But the one thing I never hear about is the (all white) umpires making all sorts of bad calls against Robinson. In fact, in game 1 of the 1955 world series, umpire Bill Summers actually gave him the benefit of the doubt and called him safe when he stole home, and it was a very close, even controversial call. Though I’d expect the worst of it to have been back when he started in '47.

In every movie I’ve seen, including documentaries like Ken Burn’s Baseball, and in every article I’ve read, I don’t see anything about the white umpires giving Robinson crap and making bad calls against him, throwing him out of games for being black, etc. Can it really be true that despite all the racism of the day, the white umpires called things completely fairly when Robinson was involved? I find that hard to believe, but I can’t find anything to contradict it.

Apparently when Branch Rickey first met with Robinson, he told him about all the crap he’d get including bad calls by umpires (that’s all I can find on the subject via a google search). But did that really not happen?

Note: this is a question about sports to a degree but it’s primarily a historical question about racism, not a post about a contemporary baseball game, so I assume it goes in GQ.

I recall reading a book by an umpire where he said that on home plate ball/strike calls, you essentially couldn’t cheat like that. You have trained yourself to make the call instantly, and say it out loud – the response is almost instinctive, and too fast for cheating like that to interfere. If you tried to do that, you would have to hesitate before announcing your call, which would be noticeable & obvious to the players, coachs, and the other umpires.

In other calls – safe/out, fair/fowl – such feelings might influence the call. But even then, umpires are trained to make the call quickly and announce it loudly.

I wouldn’t expect a racist umpire who makes a bad call against a black player to try to hide it. I’d think he’d wait a few seconds after the guy is already on base and then call him out, so everyone knows he’s protecting the white race 'n whatnot.

Surely the white fans of the team the call went against would be pissed off, but it’s not like a lot of those white fans wanted the black guy to be there either.

You hit the nail on the head. I am a high school umpire. The main mantra of an umpire is to “Get it right” meaning, get the call right. We are trained in the mechanics of umpiring so that we are at the right place at the right time to see the play and make the call. For high school ball, we get classroom training for about twenty hours. This is weekly two hour sessions for eight to ten weeks. This year they started in the first week of January. We learn the new rules and the mechainics of the game.

We also spend two Saturdays attending “clinics” where we practice what we learned in class. Around here, we then umpire a three day tournament for the local teams. This is done the weekend before the season starts.

MLB umpires attend classes and clinics every year, for five weeks before spring training begins. They are well trained and probably could not go against their training even if they wanted to. I would be surprised if Jackie Robinson had many calls called against him purposely.

IHTH, 48.

Wow! Really?

Here, “Out West”, We would not tolerate this. Down South they might have, but remember that many of the MLB teams are Northern “Yankies” where, I hear, there is much less racial prejudice then “Down South”.

MLB umpires travel a lot. If an umpire wanted to act that way, they would not receive a "warm welcome “Up North” or “Out West”. If that kind of behavior was acceptable “Down South” by the racists, it would not have been acceptable to the black fans. Don’t forget, many of the fans are, and were, “People Of Color”. So the prejudice umpire would be in trouble over 3/4 of the time. Not good for continued employment in the Majors.

Yes, there were the Nego Leauges, and while there was little to no discrimination at their games, Black folks did attend MLB games. The black folks came out in force to see Jackie play, as the Dodger management had banked on.

Speaking of Yankees –
I once heard that the NY Yankees, after being a dominating team in baseball for many years, dropped quite a bit in the Post-Jackie Robinson years – because, due to the bigotry of the owner, they refused to hire any black players till long after the other teams were. By thus cutting themself off from the pool of talented black players available (many of them with years of experience in the Black League), the NY Yankees player quality went down for a while, until they decided to hire the best ballplayers regardless of the color of their skin.

I don’t know if this is really accurate – does anyone know?
Or know how it might be researched?

Robinson had a reputation as an argumentative hothead once Branch Rickey allowed him some leeway from his early restrictions about staying calm. But whether he got more bad calls than any other player or was simply very competitive, who knows. There is a famous photo here of him kicking his glove away while disputing a call. Once when thrown out of a game for giving the umpire lip he threw his bat away, it slipped and flew into the crowd hitting 3 spectators.

See, the thing is, I’ve heard that on occasion people wager small amounts of money on the outcome of sporting events. And if there’s anything that trumps people’s attachment to whatever arbitrary self-identification tags they use to feel superior, it’s their attachment to money.

Foul, not fowl. Unless you’re implying someone’s chicken.

Dang! I thought I’d fixed that before hitting enter.

There are a whole bunch of guys wearing the same uniform that would be pretty pissed. Even those that didn’t want the color barrier broken still wanted to win. Any obvious intentional bad calls would have gotten the attention of a the entire team. That’s screwing with their livelihood.

From 1947 (Robinson’s 1st year) to 1964 (18 seasons) the Yankees appeared in 15 World Series.

From 1949 to 1953, the time baseball was breaking the color line, the Yankees won five world championship. They finished second in 1954 only because the Indians won 111 games. They integrated in 1955 and were in the Series again. So if thats a drop, I think most teams would have loved to have one.

The Yankees were slow to integrate, but, considering their lineup, it was hard for any new players to break in.

Jackie Robinson made his major league debut in 1947.

The Yankees won the World Series in 1947, 1949-53, 56, 58, 61-62, 77-78, 96, 98-2000, and 2009. The drought from 62 to 77 (15 years) was long for the Yankees but there are lots of reason for that, not related to hiring black players.

This criticism is usually laid against the Boston Red Sox who were the last team to integrate, and who’s owner (Tom Yawkey) had a well earned reputation for not being good to black players.

Elston Howard was the first black player on the Yankees, in 1950.

Moderator Action

Moving thread from General Questions to The Game Room.

And had caved to pressure from a city councilman a couple of years earlier, inviting Robinson and two others for tryouts. Invitations which, of course, were just a joke to Yawkey and his staff.

To be clear, that’s when they acquired his rights, but he did not make the big club till 1955.

Speaking of Yawkey, when Bob Costas interviewed Curt Gowdy (who had just authored a memoir) on his radio show, after Gowdy had gone on for some time about how Yawkey was “for the game” and not just his own team, and a different breed from today’s typical owner, Costas brought up the 1959 thing. Gowdy stammered a bit before replying that he and Yawkey never really talked about that, but added that he (Gowdy) knew that Yawkey had nothing against blacks as people, and in fact employed quite a few on his plantation.

Expanding on my previous post: One could argue (and what the hell, I’ll do so myself) that the second black player’s joining the team (showing that it’s not just a token thing) is a comparably significant milestone to the first. In the case of the Yankees, that was Hector Lopez in 1959.

If you look at Jackie Robinson’s stats, you’ll find that he was even better than his contemporaries knew. His on-base percentage was excellent, partly because he drew a lot of walks. Indeed, he ALWAYS had a LOT more walks than strikeouts.

Could he have walked so often or struck out so rarely if umpires were prejudiced against him?