In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
It may be the greatest prank in the history of sports. Brooklyn manager Wilbert Robinson had arraigned for a baseball to be dropped from an airplane for his to catch at Daytona Beach. Robinson was in his second season as manager. During the era in which he managed, the Brooklyn Dodgers were known as the Brooklyn Robins. Instead of a baseball, pilot Ruth Law flying 525 over the field, dropped a grapefruit, which created a big mess as the players got a good chuckle. It was outfielder Casey Stengel who suggested the switch. This incident led to Spring Training in Florida becoming known as the Grapefruit League.
Wilbert Robinson was born on June 29, 1864, in Bolton, Massachusetts. A catcher, Robinson was his debut in 1886 with the Philadelphia Athletics in the American Association. He later played with the Baltimore Orioles, who were a powerhouse in the National League in the mid-1890s. After a year with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1900, Robinson was part of the American League Orioles in 1901. Following the departure of John McGraw, Robinson was a player-manager, the remainder of the 1902 season. He would join McGraw as his pitching coach in 1903.
After working with the Giants for 11 years, Wilbert Robinson got his chance to manage with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1914. The team would become the Brooklyn Robins during his tenure on Brooklyn's bench. Robinson was popular among his players, earning the nickname Uncle Wilbert. After a mediocre 75-79 season, the Robins looked to fly to new heights in 1915.
In 1915, Airplanes were still a new fascination, and aerial tricks were becoming popular. Ruth Law, one of the first female aerialists, was set to fly over the Robins field in Daytona Beach and drop a baseball from 525 feet, which Brooklyn manager Wilbert Robinson was to catch. Somewhere along the way, the ball was switched out with a grapefruit. It is believed the switch was made by Casey Stengel, a fourth-year outfielder.
When the grapefruit landed in Wilbert Robinson's glove, it made a big splash. Robinso thought he had lost an eye as the juice squirted everywhere. The team got a good chuckle as the story went into baseball lore. The incident was the roots of Spring Training in Florida getting the nickname of the Grapefruit League.
The Robins improved to 80-72 in 1915 and won their first pennant in 1916. Wilbert Robinson retired in 1931, winning two pennants while posting a record of 1,375–1,341.