On this date in 1919, Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, GA. Robinson grew up in Southern California and he attended Muir High School, Pasadena Junior College and UCLA. He was a four-sport letterman with the Bruins (football, track, baseball, basketball) and he played professional football prior to World War II with the Honolulu Bears and Los Angeles Bulldogs. He was scouted in the Negro Leagues by former Brooklyn catcher Clyde Sukeforth and Dodgers president Branch Rickey and he signed a pro contract with Brooklyn in October 1945. He played with the Dodgers from 1947-56 and was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962.
January 30, 1962 – The New York Mets signed former longtime Dodger first baseman Gil Hodges to a $33,000 contract for the 1962 season. The Mets selected Hodges in the expansion draft in December 1961 after Hodges had been a reserve for Los Angeles in 1960 and 1961. Hodges ranked second behind teammate Duke Snider for most home runs and RBI by a Major Leaguer during the 1950s. He later managed the Mets to a World Series title in 1969.
January 29, 1958 – Just weeks away from spring training, Dodger catcher Roy Campanella is paralyzed in an auto accident on Long Island. The three-time MVP returned to the Dodgers in 1959 after a year of physical rehabilitation. A benefit game in his honor on 5/7/59 at the Coliseum drew more than 93,000 fans. He wrote a best-selling book “It’s Good to Be Alive” and eventually outlived his original doctors. Campy, a longtime spring training instructor and frequent Dodger Stadium visitor with his wife Roxie, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 and his uniform No. 39 was retired by the Dodgers in 1972. Campanella passed away in 1993 at the age of 71.
January 25, 1945 – Former Dodger president Larry MacPhail, along with Del Webb and Dan Topping, purchase the New York Yankees for $2.8 million from the heirs of previous owner Jacob Ruppert. MacPhail as Dodger president from 1938-42 changed the fortunes of the Brooklyn franchise and then enterered World War II at age 52, accepting a commission in the United States Army and ultimately becoming a Colonel. The Yankees announced Ed Barrow would remain as the team’s general manager, but MacPhail took over his dutues a month later. MacPhail resigned from the Yankees after the 1947 World Series. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1978; his son Lee was elected to the HOF in 1998, becoming the first father-son duo at Cooperstown.
January 24, 1950 – The Brooklyn Dodgers sign Jackie Robinson to a $35,000 contract for the 1950 season, making him the highest-paid player in team history. Robinson was coming off a N.L. MVP season in 1949, winning the batting crown (.342) with 16 home runs, 124 RBI and 37 stolen bases in leading the Dodgers into the World Series.
January 22, 1988 – As a result of the Players Association’s 1985 collusion suit against the Major League owners, an arbitrator rules seven players “no risk” free agents until 3/1/88, giving them a chance to sign with other clubs even though they have existing contracts. The seven players are Juan Beniquez, Tom Brookens, Kirk Gibson, Carlton Fisk, Donnie Moore, Joe Niekro and Butch Wynegar. The Dodgers sign Gibson and he wins N.L. MVP honors in 1988 and hits a memorable pinch-hit home run coming off the bench against the Oakland Athletics in the World Series.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of entertainer Danny Kaye in Brooklyn, NY. Kaye is known by Los Angeles baseball fans for his famous 1962 “D-O-D-G-E-R-S Song” in which he sings about a mythical game between the Dodgers and Giants. Kaye later became one of the original owners of the American League expansion Seattle Mariners in 1977. When Kaye was to be honored at the Kennedy Center in 1984, he asked his good friend, Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully, to introduce him at the awards ceremony.
January 17, 1977 – The Kansas City Royals release designated hitter Tommy Davis, ending his 17-year Major League career. A New York prep star in 1956, Davis was courted by the Yankees and Dodgers and he signed with Brooklyn after a phone call from Jackie Robinson. Davis made his MLB debut with Los Angeles in 1959 and he won consecutive batting titles in 1962 (.346) and 1963 (.326). He also holds the L.A. single-season mark for most hits (230) and RBI (153), both set in 1962.
January 16, 1996 – The MLB executive council approves interleague play, beginning with the 1997 season, opening the door for such regional matchups like the Yankees and Mets in New York; the White Sox and Cubs in Chicago; and the Dodgers and Angels in Southern California. The Los Angeles Angels joined the American League in 1961 and spent their inaugural season at the former minor league ballpark of the Pacific Coast League L.A. Angels, Wrigley Field. The Angels played at Dodger Stadium from 1962-65, but called the ballpark “Chavez Ravine” on its ticket stock and publications. The first spring game between the Dodgers and Angels was held in Palm Springs in 1962 and the teams began playing exhibition series at Dodger Stadium beginning in 1963.
January 15, 1957 – The Brooklyn Dodgers extend their five-year lease on Ebbets Field by signing a new three-year lease with real estate developer Marvin Kratter, who bought the field in 1953. But the lease didn’t keep the Dodgers in town. After acquiring the territorial rights to the Southern California area from Chicago Cubs owner Phil Wrigley, who also owned the Pacific Coast League’s Los Angeles Angels and its Wrigley Field ballpark, the Brooklyn franchise relocated to the West Coast after the 1957 season. Instead of playing at the 22,000-seat Wrigley Field, the Dodgers moved into a larger temporary home – the Los Angeles Coliseum.