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Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day today, as it has every April 15 since 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
But what if Jackie Robinson's life turned out a little different, and what if MLB's Jackie Robinson Day came about differently? What if Jackie Robinson made his MLB debut April 14, 1942?
And was playing for the White Sox?
The most consequential and lasting connection Robinson has to Chicago came in August of 1945 at Comiskey Park. Before a Negro Leagues game pitting Robinson's Kansas City Monarchs against the Lincoln Giants, a Brooklyn Dodgers scout named Clyde Sukeforth made contact with Robinson and told him club president Branch Rickey wanted to meet with him in New York City.
By 1947, Robinson was in the Opening Day lineup for the Dodgers, breaking MLB's modern color barrier.
Five years earlier, at a park not far from his home in Pasadena, Calif., a 23-year-old Robinson and another Black player two years older, Nate Moreland, showed up unannounced and uninvited to White Sox Spring Training camp and requested a tryout.
They got one from manager Jimmy Dykes, even though it was a farce; MLB was not going to give any Black ballplayer a real chance, and no team was willing to fight hard enough to defy the league and sign one.
Until 1997, the Chicago Tribune reported, Robinson's tryout with the Sox was a largely unknown event. None of the three Jackie Robinson biographies mention the tryout, and the only paper who covered it at the time was The Daily Worker, Chicago's communist paper. History records that Robinson had at least one other tryout, with the Red Sox in 1947, before the Dodgers signed him.
No matter: Additional sources confirm that Robinson's White Sox tryout did happen. He could have changed the world wearing a Chicago uniform. Chicago might not have been an ideal setting for breaking the MLB color barrier, however, considering race relations here.Sign up for our free Chicago sports newsletter!
His debut happening in Chicago likely would have made it harder on Robinson, who endured so much and died so young — in part, it's believed — because of the stress he carried. Brooklyn was a more welcoming place, relatively speaking, than Chicago would have been. And Dodgers ownership at the time had things going good at Ebbets Field. The Dodgers were perennial contenders for the World Series. The Sox were drifting until the early '50s. Maybe Robinson could have changed that.
And his presence in the majors in 1942, along with that of more Black players to follow, could have accelerated the Civil Rights Movement as a whole. The United States could have been better, sooner.
But that's not how it worked out. There's also Robinson being taken away from professional sports, like many men of his era, because of World War II. From 1943-1945, it's reasonable to say Robinson wouldn't have been playing in the majors for anyone.
Regardless of the White Sox's missed opportunity, Robinson has other connections to Chicago, notably his participation in the 1945 East-West Game. It was Robinson's only appearance in the annual all-star game for Negro Leaguers. His first MLB game here came against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and he returned to Comiskey for the 1950 All-Star Game with the National League roster.
It would have been a prideful thing for Jackie Robinson to have started his career with the Sox. Would they have been up to his standards, though? We will never know.
(Midway Minute tip of the cap: NBC Sports Chicago)