April 15 marks the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson making his Major League debut – and, in the process, changing the game forever. The Hall of Famer left an indelible mark on the game and his body of work against the Chicago Cubs is no exception to that rule.
The Cubs have a tie to Jackie Robinson no other franchises can stake a claim to – he played in the stadium that still houses the North Siders to this day, Wrigley Field. Given he played from 1947-1956, there are just two ballparks left from the era: Wrigley and Fenway Park in Boston.
Robinson made his Wrigley Field debut just over a month later in front of – what remains to this day, the highest-attended game in the ballpark’s illustrious history – some 46,572 fans. Of course, the Confines don’t hold anywhere near that number today, meaning that record is likely to stand the test of time, barring some totally unforeseen overhaul of the stadium.
There’s an outstanding SABR piece from Cory Ritterbusch about that day and what it meant to baseball fans and, in particular, Chicago’s Black community – and it’s definitely worth the read. From all accounts, not only was Wrigley filled to the brim, but tens of thousands of fans were outside the ballpark, unable to get through the turnstiles.
The piece also goes on to detail the stark contrast of Robinson’s experience at Wrigley to what he’d gone through at previous stops on the road – especially in Cincinnati and St. Louis, where fans and opposing players alike behaved in despicable fashion.
The Brooklyn infielder went hitless that day, going 0-for-4 with a pair of punchouts and a walk, but the Dodgers still came out on top of Chicago by a 4-2 final. That might have been Robinson’s first game at Wrigley, but it certainly wasn’t his last. Over the course of his career, he played on the North Side some 93 times, putting up a .295/.400/.446 line.
Against the Cubs, as a whole, Robinson hit an eerily similar .294/.401/.465, which fell toward the middle of the pack when it comes to all the opponents he faced over the years. Of course, there are nods to his legacy at the ballpark even today – namely the ’42’ flag that blows in the breeze on the right field foul pole.
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Knowing that players like Robinson set foot on the hallowed ground of Wrigley has always made it an experience you just can’t get anywhere else (with the exception of Fenway, which has also bore witness to more than a century of baseball greats). On this day, the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson making his debut, let us all vow to be better, do better and put out best foot forward in the same way he did, on and off the diamond.