Niagara Gazette

Columns

April 14, 2013

GLYNN: Robinson movie stirs memories of 'The Barber'

Niagara Gazette — You’ll probably hear from someone that “42,” the story of the legendary Jackie Robinson, is a movie not to be missed. What you may not know, however, is the Niagara Falls connection.

Robinson, who broke the barrier as the first black player in Major League Baseball, and Sal ‘The Barber’ Maglie, a native of the Cataract City, had a stormy on-the-field relationship that erupted in the early 1950s. For starters, the pair couldn’t stand to be in the same stadium, let alone the 60 feet between home plate and the pitcher’s mound.

The high-profile feud crystalized in 1951 when Robinson played second base with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Maglie pitched for the New York Giants. The teams were arch-rivals, drawing record crowds to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn or the Polo Grounds in Manhattan. Neither Maglie nor the Giants are mentioned in the film script. (That’s like writing a history of Notre Dame football without any reference to Knute Rockne or the famous Four Horsemen.)  

What’s missing from this new movie is the dramatic episode that unraveled April 30, 1951. When Robinson stepped up to bat in the third inning, Maglie threw a beanball right at his head. A second time, he fired the same kind of pitch. Robinson had had enough. On the next swing, he bunted down the first base line, but surprisingly didn’t seem to be in a hurry. What he really wanted was for Maglie to cover first base, so he could nail him from behind as he fielded the ball. 

As Maglie neared the base, the trim and muscular 220-pound Robinson unleashed a burst of speed and rammed the ‘Barber’ from behind, sending him sprawling in the infield. News reports of that nasty scene note that Maglie then went after Robinson but he was restrained as the two exchanged bitter remarks.

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