Remembering the Day Jackie Robinson Played in Battle Creek
Jackie Robinson was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame on July 23, 1962. It happened just 15 years after his historic debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers, as he became the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the 20th century. We were talking about it on the radio, and got a call from Jim Bidelman, who remembers seeing Robinson and the Dodgers as they played a game in Battle Creek.
It happened on a Wednesday afternoon on the last day of May 1950. The Dodgers were in first place in the National League, a game in front of the Phillies and Cardinals. They were on their way to St. Louis and made a stop in Battle Creek.
Dodgers President and GM Branch Rickey, who brought Robinson to the major leagues in 1947, was a University of Michigan classmate with Clarence Eldridge, Sr. who was the GM of the Post Cereal plant in Battle Creek. Rickey had been in Battle Creek a year earlier to speak at an event with his old friend when the idea for an exhibition game was hatched.
Fans didn’t expect the Battle Creek team to fare that well against the National League Champs, but there was a glimmer of hope since a local team had beaten the Tigers five years earlier.
The game was pretty lopsided as the Dodgers beat a team of local All-Stars, 18-1. But a crowd of 5,000 people came out on a weekday afternoon at Bailey Park. The game was called after seven innings, so the Dodgers could catch their train to St. Louis. Only five regulars played in the game, including Robinson, who had a base hit in his only at-bat, scoring Duke Snider from third.
Fans who came early got to see Don Newcombe toss batting practice, and see Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Carl Furillo, Roy Campanella, and Robinson hit. That alone was worth the price of admission, which was $1.50 for reserved seats and $1.00 for bleacher seats. Children under 15 paid 50 cents.
The box score reveals that local baseball legend and educator Joe Cooper played in right field.
Since the Dodgers were invited to Battle Creek by the Post Cereal General Manager, you might wonder why the game was played at Bailey Park, instead of Post Park?
Terry Newton, who grew up next to Post Park and played many games in both stadiums said, “The Dodgers probably wanted no part of that hill in the left-field corner of Post Park. And Post Field only had a capacity of maybe 1,500 whereas Bailey Park could hold a lot more people.”