On this day in 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier on his way to a Hall of Fame career. Today is the only day any baseball player wears the number 42, and on this day every baseball player wears 42. But Jackie Robinson didn’t jump straight from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues, he spent a season in the minors with the Montreal Royals.
In 1946, the Royals first season as a Triple-A club, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the minor leagues. On opening day in New Jersey, Robinson made an immediate impact as reporter for the Jersey Journal, Joe Cummiskey, wrote (per MLB.com) “Jackie Robinson, first Negro player ever to play in organized baseball, broke in yesterday with the Montreal Royals – and with a bang. He smashed out four hits in five times up-a homer with two men on base and three singles. He stole two bases, drove in four runs, and scored from third twice by forcing Jersey City’s pitchers into balks. Montreal won 14-1.”
In that 1946 season the Royals went 100-54 behind Jackie Robinson and 22 other players who wound up with big league careers on their way to taking home the league championship. Jackie Robinson was not the only Hall of Famer to don the Montreal Royals uniform, Tommy Lasorda and Roberto Clemente also spent time with the Royals.
Clemente had 155 pedestrian plate appearances for the Royals in 1954, but the Pittsburgh Pirates saw something in the young outfielder, and selected him in the November 1954 rookie draft, the era’s equivalent to today’s Rule 5 draft. Tommy Lasorda spent nine seasons in Montreal before eventually becoming the most iconic manager in Los Angeles Dodgers history.
The Montreal Royals were in existence from 1897-1960, and competed in the International League each of the final 32 seasons of the franchise. They competed in the championship 11 times, and won the Governors’ Cup seven times, the most for any team not still in the International League.