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Mike and Bud at Wrigley

On Sunday, May 18, 1947, Jackie Robinson played his first game at Wrigley Field. Mike Royko and Bud Selig both attended the game. Here’s the entry from Royko’s diary that day, as I imagine it.

By Jonathan Eig

I went to the Cubs game today with Slats Grobnik and nearly got into a fight. I know what you’re gonna say: So what else is new? But this time was different.

I started to think about the game even before I left the neighborhood.

Way Things Were by Will Byington
“Slats,” I said, “Do you think they’re going to let the colored guy play?”

“You mean Jackie Robinson?” Slats asked.

“No, I mean Buckwheat. Of course I mean Jackie Robinson.”

“Lookit,” said Slats, “The way I figure they gotta let him play or else a whole lot of his people coming up from the South Side to see him are gonna make a riot. They ain’t payin’ to see Dixie Walker.”

So we took three trolleys and a bag full of Mrs. Grobnik’s bologna sandwiches and we got to Wrigley just in time for the first pitch. Slats said he was going to buy a scorecard and I went to find a couple of empty seats. We had standing-room tickets, but why stand when you don’t have to? I found a pair in the upper deck, even with first base. Not bad. I grabbed one seat and put the bologna sandwiches on the other to save it.

After about ten minutes, no sign of Slats, but this nerdy-looking kid in a sweater—I think it’s called a Cardigan—came up next to me. He was pretty big, but skinny. I could’ve knocked him over with a good sneeze.

“I believe your bag is on my seat,” he said.

“I believe you’re an idiot,” I told him.

“Will you please move the bag?” he said.

“I’m saving that seat for Slats Grobnik.”

“Is that your imaginary friend?”

“You’ll find out when he gets here and beats you to a pulp for taking his seat.”

“Please move your bag or I’ll be forced to call an usher,” the kid said.

“Your funeral,” I told him.

Then the kid tried to get friendly.

“My name is Allan,” he said. “My friends call me Bud.”

“Nice to meet you, Allan,” I said, as I unwrapped a sandwich.

“I’m here to see Jackie Robinson,” he said.

“You and everybody else,” I answered.

But I’ve got to admit I was getting excited, too. Robinson on the same field as Hack, Cavarretta, Pafko, Merullo. A black man in the big leagues. Mr. Grobnik said he wasn’t sure the game could handle it. He said baseball as a business might collapse if the races mixed. I was more worried about the future of the game if guys in Cardigans like Allan here started taking all the good seats.

Robinson came to bat in the top of the first and you should have heard the roar. It was low and strong and it kept going, like a locomotive. I think Allan might have been scared because for a minute or two he didn’t even move.

Robinson swung at the first pitch and hit a little pop foul that landed behind the Cubs dugout. The crowd cheered as if he had just hit a homer. I don’t remember a lot of the details of the game, but I remember a few things that happened that afternoon.

Slats didn't come back. It turned out he met a girl who was selling Cracker Jack and took her behind the bleachers. He told me later her name was Jenny and that she let him get to second base.

I also remember that Robinson played first base. Early in the game there was a close play and Lennie Merullo ran hard into the bag and knocked Robinson to the ground. Robinson was twice the size of Merullo. He could have destroyed him. But when he got up and brushed the dirt off his uniform, he didn’t even look at Merullo. He didn’t say a word.

“If I were Robinson, I’da killed him,” I said.

“Jackie has to restrain himself,” Allan said. “He promised Branch Rickey he would turn the other cheek.”

“Screw Branch Rickey,” I said. “Somebody hits you, you hit ‘em back—and harder. That’s just common sense.”

“But Branch Rickey has to think about the business of baseball. He has to think about the franchise. He has to think about revenues and salaries and balancing the interests of players and owners and building a solid base of fans in all the major markets.”

I stared at Allan like he was from another planet but I don’t think he noticed. He had a dreamy look on his face.

Later in the game Robinson came to bat again. This time he looped a foul ball high and hard and right toward us. I gave Allan a quick elbow to the kidney and he doubled over in pain. Somebody in front of me got a hand on the ball first, but it glanced off of him and bounced around in the seats. Suddenly, Allan was back on his feet and it was between me and him. I stuck out a leg and tripped him. Then I grabbed the ball and stuffed it in my pocket.

I thought Allan was gonna take a swing at me after that but he didn't. He took his seat and I took mine.

Just then Slats came back.

“Let’s get outta here,” he said. “There’s a security guard lookin’ for me.”

“We gotta go, Allan,” I said. “Nice talkin’ to you.”

Allan put his arm around my shoulder as he said goodbye, which struck me as pretty queer, but I guess it had been an emotional day for everyone.

We were outside the ballpark when I remembered my foul ball.

“Hey, Slats,” I said. “Lookit!”

But when I reached in my pocket all I found was a wad of bologna sandwich.

Guest Loser Jonathan Eig, a senior special writer for the Wall Street Journal and former executive editor of Chicago magazine, will appear at the next Lovable Losers Literary Revue Wednesday, June 4 at El Jardin. Eig is the author of Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season and Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig.

Posted on Saturday, May 31, 2008 at 05:08PM by Registered CommenterLovable Losers Literary Revue in , | Comments11 Comments

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Reader Comments (11)

I read Luckiest Man, which is pretty good.

I also read the Royko column about his (apocryphal?) attendance at Robinson's debut at Wrigley. Anyone who read and admired Royko's work would wince at Mr. Eig's submission here.

All it lacks is wit and warmth.

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