Thursday, April 13, 2017

Ed Stevens Story about Losing the 1st Base Job to Jackie Robinson

As we all know, Jackie Robinson broke the color-barrier in 1947 as a first baseman. What we don't know much about is what happened to the guy that had the position before him -- Ed Stevens. Well, thanks to the current Jackie Robinson Foundation Auction we get a glimpse at what was in Ed's head. Featured above is a typewritten letter, dated to 1995, from former Dodger first baseman Ed Stevens, and in it he expresses a bit of antipathy. Not towards Jackie, but toward Branch Rickey. (auction link)

He writes:
I was replaced in 1947 by Jackie Robinson on the Dodgers. My story's never been told on that. I sacrificed my career to make room for Jackie Robinson. I had the ballclub made. I was gonna be the regular first baseman and, 'course they had Howie Schultz over there, the basketball player, and we'd been doin' some alternating. I hit against right-handers, he hit against left-handers.
This is the platoon the Brooklyn Dodgers likely would have had that season. Stevens continues:
Mr. Rickey told me if I'd go back to Montreal and make room for Jackie Robinson and have myself a good year, that he would shake my hand in a gentleman's agreement that he would bring me back as soon as I got to hittin' good and got myself in shape - to give him a chance to get rid of Eddie Stanky, move Jackie Robinson to second base and I had a job for the next 10, 15 years, as long as my ability would allow me.

I told him I didn't see any reason why I had to leave the club. I had it made. And he said, "Well, I'm gonna reward you if you'll do this for me, if you'll go down there and get in shape."

So I agreed to it, 'cause I imagine he was gonna make me go anyway, and I got to Montreal a month late, led the club in home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, extra base hots, and we win the thing - a runaway pennant down there. He brings me back three days too late to qualify for the 1947 World Series and then he sold me to Pittsburgh that winter.
So that's my experience with Mr. Rickey. If we'd had agents and everything in those days, I would've really cleaned house then, but bein' 21 years old and nobody to talk for you, nobody to represent you - they just told you what to do and that was it.
That's a rough situation. Players were stuck and you basically had no say.

I will add that Ed Stevens did have a banner year in Montreal. He slashed .290/.404/.533/.936 with 133 hits, 22 doubles, 27 home runs, 108 RBI's, and 89 runs scored. 

Stevens writes further:
At the time, Jackie Robinson could not have taken my job because, if you'll look up my records, I had some talent. He eventually became one of the most outstandin' ballplayers up there. In fact, he paid me a real compliment in some magazine article, sayin' that his biggest worry was Mr. Rickey wantin' to put him on first base and he couldn't see how he could replace that young outstandin' first baseman that the Dodgers had. That was myself.

So, anyway, I call it sacraficin' my career to make room for him. He didn't take my job, they gave it to him.
This last part is probably a bit of embellishment, but can you blame him? He was a young kid, like most other players on the team, and he's going to believe that he was good enough to have the job. As history shows, though, the right decision was made. Jackie needed a position and first base was the only real opening available.

As for his experience with Branch Rickey... Well, this is the kind of story you hear from this time period all the time. Management, no matter which team you played for, made promises and frequently broke them. Without representation and ultimately unionization ballplayers had no power to enforce promises.

* Please follow on twitter @ernestreyes *
* Dodgers Blue Heaven home page *

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