Olbermann story sheds light on famous Jackie Robinson photo

The email from Keith Olbermann contains this line: “Haven’t had so much fun in years.”

Olbermann, a passionate student of baseball history, feels he added an extra layer today, the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game with Brooklyn.

Writing on his Baseball Nerd site (no jokes, please), Olbermann gives a behind-the-scenes look to the famous Robinson photo:

You probably don’t know Eddie Dweck (smiling kid at left), but you’ve probably seen him before. Because of The Photograph he has a cameo role in history. But history is a defiant and elusive thing. It will tell you that The Photograph Eddie Dweck is ruminating on is one of the iconic images of Jackie Robinson just before he stepped out of that Ebbets Field dugout and into history 66 years ago today.

Except it wasn’t taken on April 15, 1947. And Mr. Dweck will also reveal to you that – albeit in the mildest sense of the word – the photograph was staged.

It turns out the photo was taken on April 11, 1947, an exhibition game between the Yankees and Dodgers at Ebbets Field. And there was something else about the photo.

Having clarified history’s erroneous conflation of Robinson’s first game in a major league uniform in a major league stadium (April 11, when the photo was taken, when Robinson went hitless but drove in three runs, one on a fielder’s choice and two on sacrifice flies) and his first official Major League Game (April 15), what was that part again about the photo – a photo which nearly all the rest of us look at as we might look at an image of Abraham Lincoln in a crowd or at least Babe Ruth – what was that about it being staged? 

“Staged,” he said again, and matter-of-factly. “We had maybe bleacher seats, the cheapest seats, and we trying to get to the Dodger dugout just like we tried to get to the Dodger dugout every game we went to. But there were a hundred photographers taking pictures of him. This was a momentous day. So they told the ushers ‘let these kids come down, and lean over like you’re trying to get his autograph.’ And that’s how we got down there. It was a matter of a few minutes, five minutes, ten minutes as I remember. Then we had to scatter.”

And here’s the connection between Olbermann and Dweck:

In some indirect way, it hurt him to the degree that until last month, he hadn’t owned a copy of The Photograph since that edition of The Brooklyn Eagle came out. That is even stranger when you consider what Eddie Dweck does for a living. Today he is the with-it, energetic co-proprietor of Studio 57 Fine Arts on West 57th Street in New York, and can use the photograph to prove to doubters that he wasn’t in diapers in 1947. The gallery features not just high end art and some of the metropolitan area’s avant-garde painters, but has also always offered a great supply of historical baseball photographs, many of which are at the level of sophistication and eccentricity of a shot of Babe Ruth pitching for the Yankees and a variety of shots of Dweck’s beloved Ebbets Field. More over, I’ve been one of his customers since 1997 and last January was the first time he ever mentioned that it was him in the Robinson/Fans photograph.

“Well,” Eddie Dweck says with a measure of contemplation that dissolves into a laugh. “You didn’t ask.”

 

It’s a fun story. Worth a read.

 

 

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