Frank Robinson of the Cincinnati Reds was unanimously voted the National League Rookie of the Year on December 1, 1956. After making his major league debut that year, Robinson had tied the then-record of 38 home runs by a rookie.
Known in baseball as “Pudge,” Carlton Fisk played for both the Boston Red Sox (1969, 1971–1980) and Chicago White Sox (1981–1993). In 1972, he became the first player unanimously voted American League Rookie of the Year, though he is probably best known for “waving fair” his game-winning home run in the 12th inning of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.
This speech is the longest one I’ve listened to so far, but it’s worth the time. It’s not hard to get a glimpse of the kind of work ethic and character that Fisk possessed through this oration. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.
On December 19, 1954, Wally Moon of the St. Louis Cardinals was selected National League Rookie of the Year. Moon finished his first season in the big leagues with a .304 batting average, 12 home runs, and 76 RBIs. The twenty-four-year-old center fielder, who replaced Enos Slaughter in the St. Louis outfield, collected 17 of the 24 writers’ votes, winning easily over future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron.
Orioles infielder Cal Ripken, Jr. was awarded the American League Rookie of the Year on November 24, 1982. Ripken’s consecutive game streak had already begun at this point, sitting at 118 games at this point.
Tom Seaver won the National League’s Rookie of the Year on November 20, 1967. The right-handed Seaver compiled a 16-13 record that season with a 2.76 ERA.
Add this one to the list of movies that I watched multiple times as a kid. I didn’t watch it as many times as I watched Angels in the Outfield, mostly because we didn’t own a copy, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Rookie of the Year enough to give it more than one viewing.
Rookie of the Year revolves around twelve-year-old Henry Rowengartner, who, while he is a big fan of the Chicago Cubs, lacks the talent to be much more than a benchwarmer on his little league baseball team. However, one day, Henry steps on a baseball while at a dead run, causing his to trip and break his arm. After spending much of the summer in a cast, Henry discovers that his tendons have healed a little too tightly, turning his arm into a sort of biological catapult that allows him to throw a speeds around a hundred miles per hour.
Before long, Henry finds himself signed by the struggling Cubs, and he almost-single-handedly saves the Chicago team from its financial struggles by drawing sellout crowds to Wrigley Field for the rest of the season. He gets to learn from his hero, Chet “Rocket” Steadman, gets signed to sponsorship deals, and experiences the highs and lows that come with overnight fame. Henry’s mother’s boyfriend, Jack, serves as Henry’s manager, but it quickly becomes apparent that he merely wishes to use Henry as means through which to pad his own bank account.
The Cubs make it all the way to the Division Championship game (which, in this flick, is apparently just the one game). Chet Steadman starts and puts in some solid work before throwing out his arm and opening the opportunity for Henry to pitch. Leading by one going into the final inning, the Cubs run out to take the field, and Henry once again steps on a baseball, causing him to trip. He falls on his arm in the same manner as when he first broke it, but rather than breaking the arm again, Henry finds that his ability to catapult a 100-mph fastball has vanished. The Cubs as a team then have to get creative on how they will manage the final three outs of the game.
Watching this film again last night, for the first time since my childhood, I was able to catch on to some things that were totally over my head when I was younger. For example, the movie plays off the Cubs’ long World Series drought, which was still ongoing at the time of the movie’s release. As a kid, the biggest thing I got out of this movie was a twisted desire to somehow break my arm in hopes that I, too, would develop a slingshot that would turn me into a star ballplayer. As an adult, I just had to marvel at the willingness of some of the adults to exploit a child all in the name of making a buck.
The Sixth Inning of Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns explores the national pastime during the 1940s, which was quite the tumultuous decade in American history. It was a decade of war as the United States recovered from the Great Depression and found itself in a position of having to enter World War II. It was also the decade of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, of women’s professional baseball, and of Jackie Robinson.
In a chronological sense, the Sixth Inning was an easier one to follow along with than any of the Innings that preceded it. The first part of this disc was dominated by two of the game’s greatest hitters. 1941 was the summer of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, whose hitting performances captivated the baseball world. Joe DiMaggio’s fifty-six game hitting streak and Ted Williams’s .406 season average have both remained unmatched ever since.
The 1941 World Series resulted in a devastating loss for the Brooklyn Dodgers to the New York Yankees. At the end of the season, Dodgers general manager Larry MacPhail , drunk and belligerent, threatened to sell off all his players. The Dodgers instead opted to let go of MacPhail and brought in Branch Rickey, thus setting the stage for the breaking of the color barrier in the coming years.
When the United States entered the war, Franklin Roosevelt insisted that baseball ought to continue. The country would be working longer and harder, and thus recreation became more important than ever, he said. However, this didn’t shield players from the draft, and baseball still suffered as a result. Players like DiMaggio and Bob Feller joined the war effort. Meanwhile, baseball turned to signing players (and umpires) who didn’t meet the usual caliber of play just to keep going.
As the war also drew away a number of minor leaguers, Philip Wrigley came up with the idea of starting a women’s professional baseball league in order to fill the baseball void as minor league teams fell apart. Women from all over, particularly softball players, were recruited. They had to be able to play ball, but they were also required to remain unequivocally feminine. Off the field, any time they were in public, they were required to be in skirts, heels, and makeup — a requirement that I, for one, would find very difficult to swallow.
Following the war, the disc goes into the story of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson. The story from Rickey’s time coaching at Ohio Wesleyan University, checking into a hotel in South Bend, Indiana to play Notre Dame, is absolutely heartbreaking, and certainly explains a lot regarding his determination to integrate baseball.
Branch Rickey certainly did his homework when choosing a player to break the color barrier, and clearly, he choose well. Promising not to retaliate and turn the other cheek for three years (three years!), Jackie Robinson signed with the Montreal Royals.
Burns breaks from the Jackie Robinson saga long enough to cover the 1946 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox. Though the Sox were the heavy favorites to win, the Cards employed the “Williams shift” to prevent Ted Williams from having much success at the plate. Thanks in part to this strategy, the Cardinals won that year’s Series. Roger Angell says it well when he explains that baseball is not a game about winning, like we think it is, but rather, it is a game about losing.
Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 was certainly an event, one that we continue to celebrate today. As expected, he endured an endless stream of taunts, threats, and even attempts at actual bodily harm. Through it all, he bit his tongue. Instead, he let his performance on the field speak for him. Not only was he named Rookie of the Year at the end of the season, he was also determined to be the second most popular man in America, after Bing Crosby. Robinson’s efforts eventually allowed other black players, including the great pitcher Satchel Paige, to break into the majors as well.
Ken Burns does a good job of pointing out that, for all the virtues that surrounded Robinson’s trek into Major League Baseball, it was a devastating event for the Negro Leagues. The Brooklyn Dodgers became the team of black America, and attendance at Negro Leagues games declined. As we know now, the Negro Leagues would eventually meet its end as a result.
The disc ends with the death of Babe Ruth in 1948. It’s only appropriate that the Sultan of Swat would receive this kind of nod (and convenient that he would die at the end of a decade — not to be morbid or anything). Burns never touches on what Ruth thought of Jackie Robinson, nor on what Robinson thought of Ruth. Perhaps nobody knows. But as Buck O’Neil points out, both men were giants in the game. Each of them, in their own way, changed baseball forever.