Editor’s note: With Jackie Robinson biopic “42” due in theaters Friday, it is my pleasure to present Nick Diunte’s latest: an interview with someone who faced Robinson in his minor league debut in 1946.
Jackie Robinson’s impact on baseball was felt immediately the moment he stepped on the field for the Montreal Royals in their season opener against the Jersey City Giants on April 18, 1946. In addition to all of the social implications behind Robinson’s debut, his 4-for-5 performance that included a home run, two bunt singles, and two runs scored by causing Jersey City’s pitchers to balk, left an indelible mark on his opposition.
Larry Miggins’ view of Robinson’s eye opening performance remains vivid some sixty-seven years later. The 20-year-old Bronx, New York native manned third base for Jersey City that day and had no trouble recalling how the day’s events unfolded.
“I remember it well,” the 87-year-old Miggins said from his home in Houston, Texas. “It was a full house, 45,000 fans. The place was packed.”
As the team went over its pre-game scouting report, information on Robinson’s tendencies were limited to what the manager had seen during batting practice. The Giants and Royals were due to meet in spring training, but the game was cancelled when officials in Jacksonville, Fla., upheld a city ordinance that did not permit mixed racial competition.
“Most of the guys were known by somebody, but when it came to Robinson nobody ever had seen him play,” Miggins said. “Our manager Bruno Betzel said he saw during batting practice that Robinson was a strong pull hitter. He said to me, ‘Miggins, you play him deep at third base.’”
Following his coach’s orders, Miggins positioned himself as instructed. During Robinson’s first two at-bats, the ball didn’t come Miggins’ way, as he grounded out to shortstop his first time up, and then hit a 335-foot home run down the left field line.
Expecting another powerful shot by Robinson, Miggins held his ground behind the third base bag as Robinson approached for his third at-bat.
“Next time up, I’m playing back, deep behind third base,” said Miggins. “He bunted and dropped one down. I could throw a ball through a brick wall in those days, so I pick it up and fire to first base and it was a real close play, safe. He could run too you know. He beat it out.”
Robinson proceeded to hit a single to right-center field during his fourth at-bat, which set the stage for Miggins to have another close encounter with the Royals second baseman. He did not think that Robinson would test him a second time with a bunt.
“Like an idiot, I’m playing him back at third base again the fifth time up. He dropped another bunt down and beat it out,” said Miggins. It was a lesson learned for the young infielder. “I gave him two hits that day and he never bunted again on me because I played him even with the bag from then on.”
Miggins went on to play parts of two seasons in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1948 and 1952, but his involvement with Robinson’s debut is one that he wears with a sense of pride and humor.
“They got him into the Hall of Fame and there he was, Rookie of the Year, MVP, and a World Series Champ, all because of the great start I gave him in baseball!” said a laughing Miggins. “I gave him two hits opening day and he never stopped from there, he just kept going. I always look back and that 4-for-5 opening day gave him a thrust for his whole career.”