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Chiefs historian reflects on Jackie Robinson’s visits to Syracuse

Jackie Robinson became synonymous with the Civil Rights movement when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. The story of his life – the film “42” – hit movie theaters nationwide on Friday.
Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- Jackie Robinson became synonymous with the Civil Rights movement when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

The story of his life – the film “42” – hit movie theaters nationwide on Friday.

Robinson, who would go on to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, made a few visits to Syracuse while playing for the Montreal Royals.

Like many other cities he played, Robinson received rough treatment during his days in the Salt City.

An official score book recorded Robinson as playing in Syracuse six times, going 0-4 in his first appearance on April 24, 1946.

The official Chiefs historian – Ron Gersbacher – said the ball club was primarily made up of players from the Deep South in 1946.

Although Robinson’s stats in Syracuse rarely stood out, the Chiefs players made sure to call attention to the man who would be the first black player in Major League Baseball.

"So when he came in here there was adversity. I'll say name calling, razzing,” Gersbacher said.

Although Robinson said Syracuse was one of the toughest of the International League teams and cities he played in, he still returned to Syracuse nearly two decades later to raise money for anti-segregation efforts in Mississippi.

Gersbacher was at that game.

“This is a big deal, of what happened to him in the 40s, to Syracuse embracing him in the 60s was like a day and night event for me as I looked at it as a teen. I thought this was wonderful,” Gersbacher said.

The Chiefs retired Robinson’s number back in the 90’s. In 2005, they honored Robinson by wearing replica Montreal Royals jerseys and hats.

Five years after Robinson appeared in the Salt City, the first black player in baseball’s modern era arrived to play for Syracuse – Vic Powers was signed by the Yankees and sent to play in Syracuse in 1951.

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