On This Date in Sports April 18, 1946: Jackie's AAA Debut
In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Jackie Robinson begins his minor league career with a bang hitting a home run for the Montreal Royals in a 14-1 win over the Jersey City Giants. A record crowd of 51,872 fans squeezed into Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, more than double the 25,000 seats set in the stadium. Coming home, Jackie Robinson received a handshake from George Shuba, showing his teammate accepted him as he began making his way to breaking the color barrier in the Major Leagues.
One year before Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers; he had an equally important debut with the Montreal Royals of the International League. He was the first black man to play in the high minors since Moses Fleetwood Walker played with the Newark Little Giants in 1889. Like the American and National Leagues, there was a prohibition from signing players of color in AAA leagues like the International League.
Jackie Robinson, who Branch Rickey signed in 1945, came to Spring Training for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946. It was a trying time for Robinson and the Dodgers. Several Dodgers' players objected to his presence, as Robinson was forced to stay away from the team due to the segregation laws in Florida. When Rickey assigned Jackie Robinson to Montreal, Royals' manager Clay Hopper was unhappy and asked that Robinson be assigned elsewhere.
Heading into his debut in Jersey City, the Montreal Royals had trouble finding a place to play as a game against the Jersey City Giants was canceled when the stadium in Jacksonville was padlocked due to the city's laws on segregation. There was no such issue as a standing-room crowd of 51,872 flooded Roosevelt Stadium, shattering attendance records. When the Royals went home, Jackie Robinson was well received in Canada, as he had a successful season in AAA, helping Montreal win the International League Championship.
When the season was over, Jackie Robinson had won over Clay Hopper, who praised him and said that he belonged in the major leagues. A statue of Robinson was unveiled outside of Montreal's Olympic Stadium in 1947. There would also be a statue of Jackie Robinson unveiled in Jersey City in 1998, outside the PATH at Journal Square near where Roosevelt Stadium was located.