Robinson Movie and Incident at Crosley Field
The city of Cincinnati and the Reds and Crosley Field have a signifcant scene in the new movie “42” about jackie Robinson’s first season in 1947 when the Dodgers first traveled to Cincinnati. The story is oft-repeated and easily found in an internet search, about how hostile, invective-hurling fans so riled Robinson at Crosley Field that his teammate Pee Wee Reese came over to Jackie and put his arm around his shoulder, to calm and reassure him that his teammates stood behind him, and to send a message to the crowd that that kind of hatred was unacceptable.
It is a pivotal moment in the movie, and it is quite possible this story actually happened sometime, somewhere, but almost certainly it did not take place in Cincinnati. The story first surfaced years after it supposedly took place, and a contemporary account of the incident has never been found. In fact, the Cincinnati papers commented on the large crowds of African-American fans and the warm reception that Robinson received. Which doesn’t mean Robinson didn’t hear insults and threats, but apparently they did not provoke a response. Robinson himself was writing a weekly column for a New York paper and made no mention of the episode, calling his Cincinnati trip, “a nice experience.”
It seems clear from the recollections of Reese, Robinson and some other Dodgers, that the incident, or something similar to it, likely did occur, but apparently somewhere else. Nonetheless, let’s be honest; it could have happened in Cincinnati. It could have happened at nearly any major league park at the time. Cincinnati was a segregated city in the late 1940s. There were still separate changing rooms in the downtown department stores, separate drinking fountains, swimming pools were segregated. Schools were largely segregated. Robinson had to take his meals in his room at the Netherland Plaza because he was not permitted to eat in the hotel dining rooms. A couple of years later in Cincinnati in 1951 Robinson did receive a death threat (the article below is dated May 21, 1951).
I heard racial insults at games I attended at Crosley and Riverfront well into the 1960s and 70s. It is inaccurate to show this episode as happening here, but that does not diminish the larger truth it portrays.