From Jackie to Roberto
After the 1950 season Branch Rickey was forced out of the Dodgers organization, but found himself quickly acquainted with a former foe in Pittsburgh. In just three years, Rickey would change the course of the Pirates forever. After signing Robinson to break the color barrier in 1946, Rickey had a well-established track record with international scouts, but there was one problem: they all worked for Brooklyn.
After a well-known Puerto Rican prospect named Roberto Clemente signed with the Dodgers in 1952, Rickey thought he had lost his chance at a once in a generation talent. The Dodgers knew Clemente would need time in the minor leagues, but were also wary that other teams may attempt to sway him away for Brooklyn after his short one year deal. So, they hid him.
Clemente spent his first year in the minors in Montreal on the bench, playing mostly as a pinch hitter against left handed pitchers. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Clemente did not receive major league playing time and was available for the Rule 5 draft that coming year. He was selected by Rickey on the advice of former Dodger scouts. The rest is history.
So where does Robinson come in here?
By 1952-53, Robinson was a prominent piece of the Dodgers with a MVP in his trophy case. He was also a leader in the locker room. According to then-Dodgers GM Buzzie Bravasi, Robinson was called into his office to give an opinion on whether the team should call up Clemente or continue to stash him in the minor leagues until the next year.
Robinson reportedly stated that the team may not be ready for another minority player on the roster, especially if this meant aging team leader George Shuba would be released from his contract. Jackie may have had a point, as Shuba was obviously an integral part of Brooklyn’s clubhouse—they kept him on the roster the entire year despite only giving him just over 50 at bats.
As always, these stories have to be taken as rumor, as those telling the tale may have their own agenda. Either way, Clemente was a Pirate. If Robinson had anything to do with it, Pittsburgh owes him a statue next to Roberto’s.