Many are unaware that before breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947, Jackie Robinson played second base for the Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team in Québec, Canada. It is strongly believed that Robinson started his career in Canada to ease himself slowly into integrated baseball.
“When I first broke into the ball club in Montreal, I knew it was going to be difficult,” Robinson stated in a radio interview with CBC Toronto. “But I had a lot of people rooting for me […] day in and day out.”
While Robinson did have a lot of support, it is also evident that it was not an easy path. The decision to sign an African American to play professional baseball team prompted strong criticism and led to Robinson's mistreatment by fans and players.
“Fortunately I broke in first with a city like Montreal. We have a tremendously warm spot for the city and Canada because they treated us so well. All they asked is that we go out and play baseball the best we could. Naturally, being a ball player, that’s all I planned to do.”
Wearing number nine, Robinson did just that, playing 124 games with the Montreal Royals in 1946. He posted a .349 batting average with 25 doubles, eight triples, three home runs, 66 RBIs and 40 stolen bases on the season.
“I think the fact I played in Montreal […] had a great impact on the success that I did have,” Robinson added.
Despite leading the International League in batting average and runs, and helping his team get their first Junior World Series win, Robinson states that one of his favorite moments was how welcoming Montreal was to him.
“I’ll never forget playing in Louisville [for the World Series], in my own country, and hearing boos, and then going to Montreal after the win, and hearing the warm and friendly reception I heard.”
Evidently, Montreal and Canada was a stepping stone for Jackie Robinson and he carried that positive warmth to help strengthen his resolve to be the incredible Major League Baseball player and hero he would later become.