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Chapman Doan Like Nigras
And he doan like Kikes, Spics, Micks, nor Jews. That’s what Phillies’ manager Ben Chapman was telling anyone who asked, why he was being so hard on Jackie Robinson, who was in the process of becoming the first black ballplayer to play in the major leagues. The story has been well documented, nowhere better than by Roger Kahn in his book The Era:1947-57, when the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers Ruled the World, Ticknor and Fields/Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993. Chapman was also saying that the abuse Robinson was receiving from him and other Phillies’ bench jockeys, was no different than any other rookie ballplayer would receive, especially one who could hurt his team. But Kahn and others have made a convincing case that what Chapman was dishing out to Jackie Robinson went far beyond the routine rookie razzing that indeed was always a baseball tradition.
Kahn also notes that Ben Chapman’s third baseman, Lee Handley, was the first opposing major leaguer to treat Robinson like a man. In those early confrontational days, Handley made it a point to apologize to Robinson for Chapman and the Phillies’ nastiness, letting Robinson know that there were some who would judge him only on his baseball talents. The 34-year-old Handley, a ten-year major league veteran with the Pittsburgh Pirates, learned his baseball, and his civility at Bradley Polytechnic Institute in Peoria, Illinois.
Robinson, of course, was a star, and became, in Roger Kahn’s memorable phrase, one of “the boys of summer,” that made the Brooklyn Dodgers so formidable in the coming decade. The Phillies were scrambling to keep up, with a blizzard of signings, trades, and deals that began well before the season opened when they signed 14 amateur free agents, most notably, 18 year-old, Curt Simmons, Willie Jones (22), and Bubba Church (23).
The Phillies opened the 1947 season with a bunch of graybeards on the mound: Dutch Leonard (39), Schoolboy Rowe (38), Oscar Judd (39), Ken Heintzelman (32), and Tommy Hughes (28), made up the starting rotation, and all became double-digit losers, though knuckleballer Leonard was among the league’s best pitchers with 17 wins and a 2.68 ERA. Fifth in 1946, the ’47 team fell to a disappointing 7th place 62-92 tie with Pittsburgh, 32 games behind the winning Dodgers. The Phillies didn’t draw a million in ’47, but not bad at 907,332.
A week into the season on April 22 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, the Phillies got their first taste of Jackie Robinson, the ballplayer. The Phillies’ Dutch Leonard, and the Dodgers’ Hal Gregg, were locked in a 0-0 tie when Robinson singled up the middle to lead off the bottom of the 8th; he stole second, taking third on catcher Andy Seminick’s overthrow, and scored the games’ only run on a hit by Gene Hermanski.
The season finale, at Shibe Park, was played before 14,000 fans who had no way of knowing that they were seeing a prelude of good things to come. The fuzzy-cheeked youngster, lefty Curt Simmons, took on the New York Giants that day and won his first major league game, 3-1, on two RBIs by his catcher, Andy Seminick. The first batter Simmons faced that day was Johnny Mize who was leading off because Giants’ manager, Mel Ott wanted to give him extra at bats in his quest to hit his 52nd homerun and break the 51-51 tie for the league lead with the Pirates’ Ralph Kiner. Not today, Mel, Mize got one hit in five tries, but no homers. Simmons was masterful at keeping the ball down – only one outfield putout in a complete game five-hit effort; six walks and nine strikeouts.
Also in the starting lineup that day:
Shortstop Granny Hamner, batting first – 4-1-2.
Leftfielder Del Ennis, batting third – 4-0-1.
Third baseman Willie “Puddin’ head” Jones, fifth – 4-0-0.
Catcher Andy Seminick, sixth – 4-0-1 (2 RBI)
Pitcher Curt Simmons, ninth – 2-0-1. One sacrifice bunt, one stolen base