CLYDE SUCKS UP THE SMILE. With one hand he holds a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap, with the other he points to heaven.
He is one of the characters in Norman Rockwell’s painting, Tough Call, although he can hardly be seen against the three judges at home. The men in black decide to cancel the game on Ebbets Field, and Sokeforth expresses his optimism as his counterpart, Pittsburgh manager Billy Meyer, plays in anticipation. This American masterpiece, which Rockwell painted on the 23rd… April 1949 for the front page of the Saturday Evening Post, now in the art gallery of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
There is a certain magic in the image, but also in the idea that Sukefort is visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year. He’s not necessarily in the Hall of Fame, but he definitely belongs in Cooperstown.
On the one hand, his father was once a real merchant. More than that, this humble, athletic, intelligent, thoughtful and determined man from Lincoln County, Maine, changed the course of baseball history in many ways – most of them well if you were a Dodgers fan in 1951. Sukeforth was, in the words of the great writer Jimmy Breslin, a history teacher at third base.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Clyde Sokeforth is in the Hall of Fame, not as a player, but as an image. In Norman Rockwell’s famous composition, Tough Call, we see Sukey looking behind the right, smiling and pointing to the sky. Sixth lower image © SEPS under license Curtis Licensing Indianapolis, IN
Proof of his influence on the game is the sacred enclave next to the Hall of Fame gallery. That’s where the signs are, and Sukefort would be an excellent guide for people walking among them. He saw Babe Ruth for the Red Sox in the 1918 World Series. He’s got Epp Rixey, Waite Hoyt and Dazzie Vance. He played with Edd Roush, Harry Heilman, Huck Wilson, Al Lopez and Leo Durocher. He played for Casey Stengel and Max Carey, but also against too many members of the Hall of Famers to mention. He was exchanged for one (Ernie Lombardi), replaced by another (Billy Herman) and took the position at Rogers Hornsby.
He may even have corrected one of the characters. It says here that Hack Wilson made 56 home runs for the Cubs in 1930. Huck really hit 57, remembers Shookforth. He hit one of the seats at Crosley Field so hard he bounced back. The judges have decided that she must have reached the screen. I was with the Reds and we didn’t say a word. Or he could point at Dennis Eckersley’s badge and admit that maybe he was wrong about him.
But there are three plaques in particular that speak for Shookforth. Without him, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente might never have reached Cooperstown. And then there’s Branch Ricky, who’s always wanted Sookie by his side.
This year and this time of year seems to be a good time to take to the air in the direction of Sukeforth. After all, the iconic Dodger scenario is still fresh in our memories. More: Seventy-five years ago Ricky sent his most trusted advisor to Chicago to ask the young king of the Kansas City monarchs to come to Brooklyn for his future…. and discuss the future of baseball. Without Clyde, says Tak Barrett Ricky III, Ricky’s grandson, the scenario would have been very different. He planted the seed of confidence.
The 23rd. In October 1945, the Dodgers in Montreal announced that Jackie Robinson would play next season for the Royals, Brooklyn’s top farm club. This paved the way for the breakthrough of the color barrier in baseball on the 15th. April 1947, when the Dodgers’ manager put the name ROBINSON in the lineup – he played first and beat the second. The manager that day was Clyde Shookforth.
The two men were inextricably linked by history, but there was a stronger bond: Friendship. In a letter he sent to Sukefort in 1972, Robinson wrote that every time there was a problem in the past few days, I could always go to you, talk to you and get the warm and friendly advice I always had.
This autumn was also the 60th anniversary of the Pirates’ victory over the Yankees in the 1960 World Series. Yeah, Bill Mazeroski won game seven on the 13th. October with his homerun against Ralph Terry, but the first Pirate Championship in 35 years owes a lot to the combined vision of Ricky and Shookforth.
Baseball is full of incredible stories, but few are as improbable and beautiful as Sukeforth’s. Who would make that up? He was a small receiver (6 feet tall, 155 pounds) from Washington, D.C. (population 800) in Lincoln County, Maine, who happened to find his way to the major leagues and ended up playing .354 for the Red in 1929. He overcame a hunting accident that left him with a visual impairment in his right eye and he overcame a personal tragedy that he took to his grave.
In 1945, when he had coached the Dodgers for 43 years and the team suffered for his players because of the war, he went back to work… …and beat .294 in 18 games. It was later that summer that Ricky sent Shookforth on his top-secret mission.
What else? He could argue that no manager in baseball history had a higher percentage of victory – it was 2-0. He was the guy who decided who would be the best choice to tackle Bobby Thomson for the global recording.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Sukeforth spent 10 seasons in the big leagues as reserve receiver for the Cincinnati Reds and Brooklyn Dodgers. AP photo.
When he was accused of this, he went to Pittsburgh and took revenge by taking a young legionnaire named Clemente away from the young Dodgers. And if the Pirates were a little less stingy, he might as well have drawn a Brooklyn kid named Koufax.
Suckfort wasn’t just a baseball player. Temporarily retired, he was invited to be a delegate for the 1960 Maine Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. At the convention, John F. Kennedy was nominated as the presidential candidate, meaning that Kennedy was elected 26 days after Mazeroski, another favorite son, danced Forbes’ pitch to third base. That’s another pantheon he can tell you about.
Fortune seemed to follow Sookie’s example. At the age of 75, when he was still a Boy Scout, his second wife Grietje won the Maine Lottery. He may have led a charmed life, but it wasn’t an accident. Like Ricky said, happiness is the rest of conception.
Besides, he told Suekforth first.
IF TRAVELING is on Main Street near Waldoboro, turn right onto Highway 220. It’s the road to friendship. The Brooklands cemetery lies a few kilometres to the left, in the middle of the oaks. According to the sign it is a place of peace and beauty for reflection and meditation.
In the right corner of the cemetery, roughly where the first pedestal would have stood, is a granite tombstone that is partially obscured by a flowering hosta plant. The name SUKEFORTH is crossed out at the top and both names are crossed out at the bottom:
CLYDE L. 1901-2000
HEAL M. 1901-1938
There’s nothing else on the headstone. But it also says a lot. Clyde went through all the years of the 20th century. Helen died too soon. The only indication that an important person was buried in front of the tombstone: a weathered baseball in the bowl and a clay sculpture in the dressing room.
I just happened to be there. My twins were kind enough to invite me to a vacation in Maine in early September, and the Airbnb they chose was in Waldoboro. When I wentogled him as Clyde Sukeforth’s hometown, I was immediately intrigued. I remember his Maine accent in a compelling interview Ken Burns gave him for a series of baseball documentaries, but I didn’t know much about him. Then I fell into the rabbit hole on purpose.
Fault! The file name is not specified. The headstone Clyde Sukeforth shares with his first wife, Helen, does not mention the indelible stamp he left on the history of baseball. Steve Wolfe/ESPN
Waldoboro is near U.S. Highway 1, 63 miles off the coast of Portland. Nestled on the Medomac River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean and is named after General Samuel Waldo, life began in the 1700s as a port and shipbuilding centre and later attracted many mills and factories. Most of them are gone now, but it is still a lively community of 5,000 people, popular with all kinds of craftsmen and fishermen.
In his later years Sukefort was one of them. He lived a little further down Friendship Road in the Back Cove area of Waldoboro, in the yellow Cape Cod cottage on the east coast of Muscongus Bay. I visited him in the nineties, says his grandson Branch, who is now president of the Pacific Coast League. He had this beautiful thing he used to tie his lobster traps to. I ate so many lobsters on his picnic table, I ate another one a year later.
The North Star of Waldoboro is Moody’s Diner on Route 1. Known for his pies and famous Maine comedian Tim Sample, Moody’s has been serving comfort food since 1927 – a year after Sukeforth reached the big leagues with the Reds. One of his most famous guests was Ted Williams, a member of the Hall of Famer, who dined here while hunting and fishing with Maine sports reporter Bud Levitt Jr. Next to the article about him is an old photo of Suckforth in a Dodger uniform, the godfather of New England baseball, by Bud Levitt. It’s easy to imagine Ted, Bud and Clyde sitting in a cabin after a day in the woods.
In all the restaurants, dugouts, train wagons and ball parks where Sukeforth sat, that’s where he belongs. Clyde Leroy Suckforth was born on the 30th. November 1901, born a few miles north of Moody’s, near Highway 220, in Washington, D.C. His father, Pearl, was a farmer and a cooper who kicked snow for extra money and played baseball in the little free time he had. At that time and that place, Clyde and his sister Hazel each walked 5.5 km to the one-room school, which also served as a one-teacher school. He once told an interviewer that there are two things you can do. You can take a ball and a glove with you and play ball with the local children, or you can dig up a can of worms and go fishing in the trout creek. That’s it!
He didn’t follow the Red Sox by radio, but by stagecoach – just like the Boston Post left at sunset every night. He got to see the Kid in person when his uncle took him to match four of the 1918 World Series. Ruth threw eight sets and placed a triple RBI of two when the Red Sox beat the Cubs 3-2 to take a 3-1 lead in the series, which they won in six games.
Sukeforth dropped out of high school for a while to work for a logging company, but he was good enough to dream of a day playing in the majors, and good enough as a receiver to be recruited by semi-auto teams despite his small stature. I wasn’t big enough to be good, he once said to Brent Kelly from the Sports Collectors Digest, but I thought what I had in me was pretty good.
One of the teams was sponsored by the Great Northern Paper Company and university players were added to the team. Some of them were from Georgetown University, and they loved Shookforth. Then they took him away at the end of the summer.
In a way, it was through friendship that he came from Washington, Maine to Washington, D.C.
One of the main attractions of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is the Great Wall, a huge collection of signatures of players who have used Louisville Slugger bats, created by Hillerich & Bradsby since Honus Wagner signed a contract with the company in 1905.
The signatures are burned into the wooden panels, just like on the handle of the drummer, and the titles are arranged alphabetically by decade, so that CLYDE SUKEFORTH 1927 lies just between WILLIAM G. STYLES 1921 and ERNIE SULK 1930. Even in this sea of names, Sukefort’s signature is distinguished by its graceful precision. He drew it as a member of the Reds, but this seems to prefer the style of writing on the uniform he wore for almost 20 years.
PJ Shelley no longer works at the museum, but when he was programme director, he gave a tour called The Signature Wall Spotlight to tell the stories behind the names that visitors might not know. One of them was Clyde Shookforth, whom he called the Forrest Gump or baseball.
Like Forrest, Clyde was a little town boy that was there when it happened, Shelley says. He was there before the fateful meeting of Ricky and Robinson. He wrote Jackie’s name down on the 15th. April 1947 on the ID card. He was on the field when Norman Rockwell joined Ebbets Field. He picked up Ralph Branca because Carl Erskine bounced around the corner. He was looking for the Pirates when he saw Dodger with a very good arm.
It’s a nice signature, but what makes it even nicer is that he can sign it to acknowledge that he’s had so much baseball history.
Just as Gump found his calling in Alabama, Suckfort found his in Georgetown. I loved school, he said years later. He was a receiver and left fielder and was lucky to see Senators Walter Johnson beat the Giants in game seven of the 1924 World Series. But he left after two years, thanks to a network of alumni: Tommy Whelan, a former athlete from Georgetown (and Jim Thorpe’s teammate at the Canton Bulldogs), sought out the Reds, who hired him for $1,500 and $600 a month in the fall of 25 years. I wanted to hit a ball, Shookforth once said. That’s all I wanted to do.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Louisville Slugger signs Sukefort at bat in 1927. His graceful signature is one of more than 9,000 signatures on display on the large wall of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. Louisville Museum and Snail Factory.
The Reds sent him to Nashua, New Hampshire, in the New England League for the 1926 season, but brought him to Cincinnati at the end of May for a bee bat. Although he was beaten, Shookforth said: The highlight of my career was the first day I put on a Big League sweater. He also inspired the Nashua Millionaires mascot to become a catcher. The mascot was the Tebbetts Bird, who spent 14 seasons in the big leagues and stayed another 11 seasons.
The Reds named Sukeforth permanently in 1927, the year they signed the Louisville contract, but he spent the 27s and 28s as backup for Bubble Hargrave. We had a good shot, but we didn’t score many points, he said. We’ve had bad strikers like me.
But then, out of nowhere and with a little more playing time in 29, Sukeforth hit .354 on 84th. and only hit six times. He suffocated in his large, heavy Louisville Slugger and, in a typical Maine way, in his own creations. I had legs, he once told an interviewer who asked him about the season.
Modestly, he was a good hitter and a better catcher, and for the next two seasons Sukeforth was a constant pillar of the Reds. The Reds were pretty bad – Rixey and Roush were the bottom of the barrel – but with 30 years, Sukeforth still had some good years ahead of him.
The rabbit hole I fell into led me to Bill Francis, a Baseball Hall of Fame scholar who was kind enough to send me clippings of the Shookforth biography in the huge library there. It’s usually a pleasure to look at old newspaper clippings, but every now and then something can take your breath away. This is from the Washington Post of the 18th. November 1931:
Shot Clyde Suckfort in the eye during hunting
Cincinnati, Ohio, 17. November (A.P.) – Surgeons today felt there was a chance to save sight in the right eye of Clyde L. Suckfort, 29, a Cincinnati red first class, who accidentally shot himself while he was out here yesterday hunting rabbits. One of the buckshot pellets pierced Shookforth’s eye, according to the doctors. The surgical bandages will be removed on Friday.
Actually, he and his friends were hunting birds, not rabbits. As Sokeforth later said, the bird jumped before one of our boys could expect it, and fired quickly. He’s got the wrong bird. Sukefort had to stay in hospital for several weeks because there were some bullets in his brain and one of them pierced his right eye. For the rest of his life he will find it difficult to read newspapers with his eyes, but he rarely complains. In his usual way he said that I had never been world champion and that the accident didn’t help anyone.
Just before the 1932 season, the Roden Sukefort, Tony Cuccinello and Joe Stripp sent to replace Wally Gilbert, Babe Herman and Ernie Lombardi in what, with one exception, could be one of the worst cases in Dodger’s history: That puts Shookforth in the hot seat.
When he was eight years old. In December 1933 he married Helen Miller from Cincinnati. Soukeforth has just finished a season in which he made only 0.056 in 39 appearances. He only had one RBI at 34, and the Dodgers selected him in Toledo for season 35. He decided to hang it up and go back to Maine with Helen. But the Dodgers offered him a player-manager position in 1936 with their Class D team in North Carolina, the Leaksville-Draper-Spray Triplets. Even with a good eye, Sukeforth hit .365 with seven homeruns and a triple to finish third in the B-League.
From there he travels to Clinton, Iowa to lead the Owls to first place. In 1938 his Elmira Pioneers won the Eastern League Class A Championship. At least that’s what the Baseball Guide says.
The clips tell a completely different story. This is from the Elmira Star Gazette of the 16th. July 1938:
Pioneer Pilot Proud Daughter
Mrs. Clyde Sukeforth, wife of the Pioneer Manager, gave birth to a daughter in Waldoboro, Me, on Thursday.
The director of Sukefort, who stood by his side, said that both mother and child were doing well. Clyde will join the Pioneers here Sunday for a double one-on-one with Wilkes-Barr. Pitcher Lew Krausse led the team in his absence.
Seventeen days later, the Star Gazette must have printed it:
In memory of Mrs. Clyde Sukeforth, the wife of manager Elmira, who died Saturday at her home in Waldoboro, I, the flag was flown at Dunn Field during Monday’s game against Hartford. The flowers were sent by the Elmira club and the Elmira fan club.
The complete story of this season of 1938 will be buried in another fragment a little later. It seems that the Elmira Pioneers have won the pennant in 1937, but due to some bad apples they got off to a bad start. When Sokeforth threw them out, a delegation of Elmira fans went to the general manager of the Dodgers, Larry MacPhail, and demanded that Sokeforth be fired. McPhail said if I took Sookie out of Elmira, I’d take the baseball club with me.
After the birth of his daughter mid-season and the assurance that Helen and the baby would be okay, Soukeforth joined the team. But a few hours after his arrival he received a telegram stating that his wife had died of complications from a Caesarean section.
Imagine taking a train back to Maine, planning a funeral, feeding the child who just lost his mother, your wife. Helen’s own mother, Helen, would take care of the baby for a while in what would otherwise seem like a disappointing season.
Somehow Shookforth changed the team. The Pioneers finished in third place and then surprised their sceptics by winning the Eastern League championship. He’s scored 0.348 in 12 games this year. How did he do that? Maybe it was the receiver. You’re used to getting rid of the pain. Maybe it was mine. You’re used to shivering in the cold darkness of the night. Or maybe it was about forging two roles in someone who is willing to take on a big responsibility.
Sookie has always been a great teammate. Now he wanted to be the right man in the right place at the right time.
CLAIDE SUCKEFORT DISCOVERED are fedora and started smiling. In one of the opening scenes of the 2013 film 42, Suckforth, played by Toby Huss, has just told Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford): I’m taking a black baseball player to the Brooklyn Dodgers. They’re in the Dodger offices in the spring of 1945. I don’t know who he is, Ricky said, or where he is, but he’s coming.
In real life Ricky was in his third season as general manager of the Dodgers. He left the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of season 42 to succeed Larry McPhail, who had left to do his military service. Mahatma inherited a team that, in his own words, was dangerously old-fashioned, and she proved him right away by finishing seventh in 1944. But among his strengths were two former Cincinnati teammates, Leo Durocher and Clyde Suckfort – Leo led the Dodgers and Suckfort led the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ top farm team.
After spending another year (1939) in Elmira, Sokeforth Rogers defeated Hornsby for the place of the Royals. He’s also won fans and journalists over. Like the profile of A.W. O’Brien’s 15th. February 1941 for the Montreal Standard, Sookie himself was a fierce fighter – although one would never have guessed that he would look like a quiet pastoral figure who walked semi-apologetically to the training line at third base.
In this room O’Brien goes to his farm in Shookforth on Blueberry Hill, a hill overlooking Waldoboro. We meet his hunting dog Martha and her roommate, former teammate and catcher Val Picinich. There’s a lot to discuss: Hunting, fishing, blueberries, weather and baseball. But the part that makes me smile is this:
It is not surprising that a large part of Sookie’s life revolves around her little black-haired daughter Helen, who is now two and a half years old. She is extraordinarily intelligent, lively and already very interested in her father’s work.
His father’s team in Montreal won the International League Championship in 1941 and finished the year 42 with the second best result in the league. When Ricky took over, he asked Sukeforth to join the Dodgers’ staff.
Fault! The file name is not specified. After choosing Clyde Shookforth in film 42, Toby Hass, who wears a hat, learned from his character. I started reading about him and realized he looked like Zelig from baseball, says Huss. I was starting to like this guy. Legendary images/Cobalt/Security stock
Ricky was also a small village ranger, and he liked having Suekfort around. He also loved the smell Shookforth brought him from Maine. They got along very well, the Third Department said. That’s why they were often transitional partners. That’s why they worked so well together.
The opening scene of 42 Rings is true, but Ricky has actually been thinking about getting into baseball for a while, and the Dodgers have given him that chance. As Lee Lowenfish notes in his excellent biography Branch Rickey: Ricky, an avid baseball fan, began to populate the minor league system and auditioned across the country under the watchful eye of scouts like George Sisler, Rex Bowen, Tom Greenwade, Weed Matthews, Lee MacPhail and Shookforth. Duke Snyder, George Shuba, Carl Erskine and Ralph Branca are the result of these experiences. Ricky also asked them to secretly spot war shows between the Negro leaguers and the major leaguers who were in the armed forces.
It was mid-August ’45 that Ricky Sukefort called into his office. Here’s how Sokeforth remembered that meeting 50 years later in an interview with the Hall of Fame:
He called me and said: I want you to go to Chicago on Friday and watch the game between the Kansas City Monarchs and the Lincoln Giants. Pay special attention to the short stop with the name Robinson, especially in the area of the poor. He also said: Identify yourself and tell him who sent you.
I arrived early at the ball park, took the scorecard and noticed that the number of Robinson was 8. So I sat down and waited. He went out with some guys, and I said hello… and I gave him a message. He was hit by thunder. He couldn’t understand why Mr. Ricky was interested in him.
Just a little problem: Robinson hurt his hand and didn’t play. Here’s how Robinson describes the same encounter in his autobiography I Never Had It Made:
Shookforth said he wanted to talk to me anyway. He asked me to visit him at the Stevens Hotel after the game. And then I thought. Another time-consuming experiment. But Sukeforth seemed like a sincere man, and I thought I might as well listen to him.
Fault! The file name is not given. In 1945, during Jackie Robinson’s only season in the Negro League, Tak sent Rickey Suckforth to scout for Robinson and asked the Kansas City Royals to return to Brooklyn with him for a meeting with President Dodgers. Sports News from Getty Images
Before Robinson arrived, Shookforth had a $2 bell in his pocket so he and Jackie could ride in the elevator together. Upon arrival in his room, Shookforth told him that Mr. Ricky wanted to see him in Brooklyn and that if Jackie could meet Clyde in Toledo, where he had another reconnaissance mission, they could take the night train to New York together. Robinson accepts, although he is not yet sure of the invitation – the Dodgers have a Black League team, the Brown Dodgers, who play at Ebbets Field.
They were in the same car as Pullman and made a lot of eye contact. The more we talked, Shookforth said, the more I enjoyed it. There’s something about that man you just caught. He was tough, smart and proud.
After their arrival, they spent the night in several hotels and then met at 10am on the 28th in the Dodgers’ office on 215 Montague Street. August. Shookforth takes Robinson to Ricky’s office on the fourth floor and introduces him: Mr. Ricky, this is Jack Roosevelt Robinson of the Kansas City Monarchs. I think he’s a bit of a Brooklyn player.
There were only three people in the room, not counting the fish in Ricky’s aquarium. Oh, they were a couple, those two! Later, Shookforth contacted Jules Tigel for his book The Great Baseball Experiment. I’m telling you, the air in that office was electric.
Fault! The file name is not specified. As the only person in the room where the fateful meeting between Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson took place, Shookforth had a unique insight into their relationship. There were some, both of them! Mr. Shookforth said. The air in that office was electric. Kurt Gunther/Keystone/Archive Photo/Getty Images
According to Mr. Shookforth, Mr. Rickey the conversation by saying: All my life I’ve been looking for a handsome, colorful baseball player. I have reason to believe that this person could be you. But I need more than a great baseball player. I need someone to turn the other cheek and the worst abuse a person can endure. If a guy runs into you and calls you black, you can come out swinging and you’ll be all right. But you’d put mental health back 20 years.
Robinson promised Ricky this wouldn’t happen. I thought the old man was going to kiss her, Shookforth said. Robinson signed on the spot for Montreal – $600 a month with a drawing bonus of $3,500. By Ricky’s standards, it was a big problem, but it wasn’t just about playing baseball. He told Shookforth that Robinson wore the whole coloured breed on his shoulders, probably the next generation. That’s a lot to put on a person’s shoulders.
Ricky has also asked Robinson and Sokeforth to keep quiet about this until the time is right. That was almost two months later, on the 23rd. October, when the Montreal press office was warned that an important announcement would be made. Some scholars hoped that Babe Ruth would be the next manager of the Royals. But then Jackie Robinson came in.
In his first game for the Royals in Jersey City, Robinson hit four shots, including a triple homer, and two stolen bases. He didn’t have it easy in season 46 – Mississippian manager Clay Hopper initially hated the idea of integration, and Louisville fans treated him hard. But after the Royals had won the pennant and then defeated Louisville in the International League Championship thanks to Robinson’s performance, the fans of Montreal carried him on their shoulders. Then, at the club, Hopper took him aside, shook his hand and told him you’re a great baseball player and a great gentleman. It was great having you on the team.
Fault! File name not specified. On the 18th. In April 1946, Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball when he started playing as a shortstop for the Montreal Royals in Jersey City, N.J., and rewarded Shookforth’s confidence with a 4-for-5 with a three-point homer and two stolen bases. Bettman/Getty Images Archive
Meanwhile, Shookforth was Ricky’s assistant. During the 1946 season he alternated between training Durocher, spotting Rickey and organizing the new class B club of the Dodgers in Nashua. Ricky showed a special interest in this team because he sent two other black players, Don Newcomb and Roy Campanella, to start their careers. Shookforth is a scout who discovered Newcomb when he signed up for the Newark Eagles, and he too gained confidence. Newcomb came to the show at Ebbets Field in October 1945 with a sore arm and Sukeforth came to his aid. I’ll never forget that, Mr. Newcomb said. This man came in, this white man, and I stood there crying because I thought my baseball career was over. Shookforth relieved his pain by saying the Dodgers still want to draw him.
The Dodgers started their spring training in Havana in 1947 with a big question mark and a small question mark. If the answer to the first question was: Yeah, Robinson’s ready for the majors, so the next question was: Where are we gonna put it? He played for the Monarchs and second base for the Royals, but the Dodgers already had Pee Wee Reese and Eddie Stankey in those positions. I was told I had to learn to play first base, he writes. It bothered me because I thought it might delay the summit.
There’s a big scene in ’42 where Toby Huss as Sokeforth meets the late Chadwick Bozeman, who plays Robinson, at first base. While Sukeforth spins the bat and hits fango after fango to test Robinson for the first time, he delivers a racing monologue:
You know, Mr. Ricky wants you to play baseball… …so the Dodgers want you on their team… That’s it! … So I’ve been thinking about it… and I looked it up in the dictionary. … It’s about attracting attention or making a point.
At this point Bosman makes a dive stop to his right, and Huss thinks I can see him.
Huss, a versatile actor who can make an amazing impression on Durocher’s good friend Frank Sinatra, laughs when asked on stage. He says it’s an honor for our coaches. I think I hit the minor leagues.067. As for Chadwick, he was a handsome man and a great actor, but he could barely stop playing baseball when they started filming. Somehow we got through it.
Whatever they did. This is my favorite part of the movie, says Dennis Zimmerman, sales representative at Past & Present Motor Cars in Winter Garden, Florida. His word must mean something – he’s one of Shookforth’s four grandsons.
Fault! The file name is not specified. After manager Leo Durocher was suspended for the 1947 season, Sokeforth came on the opening day as captain of the Dodgers and put Robinson’s name in the Brooklyn team – and in the history books. Getty Images/Getty Images Sports Studio
CLYDE and JACKIE hold their hands and smile in the dugout, each with one foot on the ground. The photo was taken on the opening day of Ebbets Field on the 15th. April 1945, taken, and it looks like they’re sharing a secret. The four men with him are not laughing: Ed Stevens and Howie Schultz, two first basemen who don’t play because of Jackie, and Jake Pitler and Ray Blades, two coaches who fail because of Clyde. In the background, leaning over the shelter, are the phalanges of Brooklyn children who want to take a closer look at the story.
Durocher should be the director. He suppressed the players’ rebellion against Robinson during spring training and had full confidence in Ricky. But he also had a filthy private life that offended some virtuous and powerful people who urged Commissioner Happy Chandler to do something about it. He did, and he suspended Durocher on the 9th. April for a year. When the commissioner brought the news to Ricky, the CEO responded by shouting: Son of a bitch! Ricky, who never swore, said it again.
After reviewing his options and consulting with Sukeforth and the Blades, Rickey decided to ask Bert Shotton, scout for the Dodgers, if he wanted the position. Shotton was a curious choice for a big experiment – he hadn’t been able to get a full-time job since 1933, when he led the Phillies to seventh place, and he was so old-fashioned that he managed to get through in street clothes like Connie Mack. And since he lived in Florida, he’d be late for the opening game in Brooklyn against the Boston Braves. So Ricky asked the coaches to choose an interim manager from their own ranks. They chose Shookforth.
That’s why it was Sukefort who wrote ROBINSON 1B between STANKY 2B and REISER CF on the identification card. In a 1987 interview with C. Eric Lincoln for the Baseball Research Journal, Shookforth remembers: I brought a line-up card to the board that day and handed it to the referee and [Billy] Southworth, the manager of the Braves. I can’t remember anything about what was said. So much noise. This is what I remember. I gave them the cards and went back to the dugout. The Dodgers took the field, and that’s it. The season has begun. It’s as simple as that. For me at least.
In his first three games against Johnny Sane, Robinson went to third base, singled left to finish third base and made a double play to finish fifth base. But with the Dodgers 3-2 behind at the end of the seventh set, Stankey started a walk and Robinson made a sacrifice blow that turned into a two-base error that triggered a rally of three sets. Final score: Dodgers 5, Braves 3, Skeptics 0.
Fault! The file name is not specified. The more we talked, the more Clyde Shookforth talked about Jackie Robinson, the more I loved him. There’s something about that man you just caught. He was tough, smart and proud. Bettman/Getty Images Archive
The Dodgers followed the Braves 12-6 after the day off, with Sukeforth handing over the reins to Shotton. This small break between Durocher and Shotton was too painful to work on a 42-year-old screenplay, so the poetic justice of Shookforth, who wrote Robinson’s name on the first cast card, is lost for the film. Art can’t always imitate life.
But life can sometimes imitate art. In fact, I was tested for the role of Leo Durocher, says Huss. They gave it to Chris Meloni, but the director, Brian Helgeland, said they might have another role for me – Clyde Suckforth. I read the script and I thought: That sounds interesting.
The cover also fell into the rabbit hole. I started reading about him, and I realized he looked like Zelig out of baseball. So I decided I had to get on a plane to Maine. I started at the library in Washington and they put me in touch with the fire chief of Waldoboro who knew Sukeforth because the chief was active in the Little League. He said Sukeforth would come to their games with a wheelchair and a stopwatch. He also brought them all kinds of material that was sent to him about his person.
The fire chief – his name was Bill Maxwell – told me he once went through some of the baseballs that Clyde had given him and got autographs. He said he walked up to him and said Clyde, Reggie Jackson signed the ball! And you know what Clyde told him? He said: It’s okay, the kids don’t mind.
Huss, who grew up in Marshalltown, Iowa, home of the infamous Anson Hall of Fame hat, also visited the Shookforth House on the Water and Brookland Cemetery.
I’m gonna love this guy, Huss. When I went to his grave, there were three baseballs – one that was quite old, one that had been there for a while and one that was relatively new. When I left, there were four baseballs.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Helen Shookforth was her father’s pride and joy – and like him, she didn’t care about her connections in the baseball world. But she’s still a big fan of the game her father loved. The polite Zimmerman family
THEY ALL SNIGGER, Clyde Shookforth in Dodger uniform, Helen Shookforth, 9, in pigtails, and Burt Shotton in bow tie. It’s 1947, and they had every reason to be happy. The Dodgers won the title and Robinson scored 0,297 in the league with 29 stolen bases and was honored as Rookie of the Year. They lose the World Series in seven games to Joe DiMaggio and the Yankees, but they beat America.
Shookforth described his deal with Shotton as follows: I was Mr. Shotton’s legs, and he had the brains. What a combination! He did a great job and led us to the pennant this year.
But the season hasn’t been without a struggle. In The Great Baseball Experiment, Jules Tiegel describes a September game in which the Cardinals caught Joe Garagiola on a Robinson-pick in the second inning. When Robinson caught the bat at third base, he said something to the catcher, Garagiola said something back, and a passionate exchange of blows followed. Shookforth came out of the dugout to control and calm Robinson.
Durocher came back at the beginning of the 48-season, but was figuratively exchanged for the Giants after 72 games and Schotton was brought back. That’s why Shookforth ended up in one of Rockwell’s most famous paintings. The artist and the photographer appeared on the 14th. September at Ebbets Field to do their research. Since Shotton could not go on the field in street clothes, Sookie was the representative of the Dodgers on the field. Rockwell has accentuated his features in the picture, so he looks more like Ichabod Crane than Clyde Shookforth, but that’s him. In the background, you can see that the 42 now plays second base and second base for the Pirates, Danny Murtaugh. (More about him later.)
The scoreboard shows PITTS 1 and BCLIN 0 at the end of the sixth. If the table is open to interpretation, the Saturday Evening Post has actually given an explanation: In the picture, Clyde Shookforth, the Brooklyn coach, who can probably tell You may be all wet, but it’s not raining a drop! Bill Meyer, the manager of the Pirates in Pittsburgh, responds in no uncertain terms: For the love of Abner Doubleday, how can we play in this downpour?
Apparently the Dodgers thought they should keep playing, while the Pirates wanted to go home with a 1-0 victory.
Shotton led the Dodgers to another pennant in 1949, but they lost again to the Yankees. Shookforth, Ricky’s sweater, kept helping with the spotting. During the 1950 season, the Dodgers contacted the Baltimore Elite Giants to inquire about second baseman Jim Gilliam. Because the Black League-team needed a new bus, a deal was negotiated: $4,000 plus $1,000 for the bus in exchange for Gilliam and a pitcher named Joe Black.
According to Jimmy Breslin, the day will come when Suckforth will tell Ricky that he is the happiest man in the world: He got two World Series players for $5,000.
Ricky said: Happiness is the rest of conception.
Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Until next year, the Dodgers need all the luck they can get. The last two under Ricky, who left for Pittsburgh at the end of the 1950 season after a power struggle with owner Walter O’Malley, fought 0-7 in the World Series. But hope dies last, and on the 3rd. October 1951 Dem Bums Durocher and the Giants face each other in a play-off game at the Polo Grounds for the right to take on the Yankees in the World Series. Charlie Dressen was now the manager of the Dodgers and Sokeforth was his bull trainer.
You could fill the library with written literature about the game. But it’s come to this: Don Newcomb led 4-1, but then gave up two singles and a double. With first base open and Bobby Thomson and Willie Mays on deck, Dressen Soukefort called to the paddock to see which of his two substitutes was the better choice, Erskine or Branca. Erskine bounced just around the corner, so Clyde told him Branca.
Fault! The file name is not specified. When the manager of the Dodgers, Chuck Dressen, needed a replacement against Bobby Thomson in the ninth round of the 1951 Pennants play-offs, he called Suckforth in the pen. Shookforth sends Ralph Branca, who hands over the roundabout to Thomson. Bettman/Getty Images Archive
Dressen could have taken a deliberate walk, but he didn’t. Thomson hit Branca’s field (0-1), and the ball landed at the bottom of the seats in the left field. Red Smith, a columnist for the New York Herald Tribune, finished his story, Ralph Branca turned around and started working for the club. The number on his uniform looked huge. Thirteen.
At least that’s the story of Heard the Shot Around the World. Shookforth called it something else in his interview with Eric Lincoln: The man hit this popup… I swear it was a popup… and it landed in the front row of the bleachers, and that’s all she wrote.
In the days after the loss, Dressen, who might have had to run Thomson, hung Sukeforth to dry it. When asked why he brought Branca, Dressen said Sookie said he was ready to go. After all Sukeforth had done for the Dodgers, he had no choice but to fall on his sword. If I’d stayed in Brooklyn, I’d have had to accept it, he said. His resignation was announced on the 5th. December 1951 is announced, and Billy Herman is hired in his place.
Shookforth wasn’t too upset, though. He’s already called Branch Ricky. And he was just married to Gretel Winchenbach, a 35-year-old widow from Waldoboro. It only seemed natural to a former catcher. Her maiden name was Pitcher.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Film Sukeforth participated – as a coach – in the first modern baseball card game, the Topps series of 1952. Topps, Inc.
CARD NO. 364 from the 1952 Topps collection belongs to Pittsburgh Pirates’ coach Clyde Shookforth, with something like a Where-am-I? smile. This card game is probably the most valuable in history, partly because it contains beautiful portraits of 407 players, but mainly because No. 311 is the first Mickey Mantle card for Topps, which cost $2.8 million in 2018. In perfect condition, the Shookforth is worth about $1,500.
On the back of the card it says that if she is not busy on the field, Sookie is used as a gunner at the Pirate Farm clubs.
In fact, Pirate Director Billy Meyer thought his partner Hard Call would try to take his place. When asked what Suki’s responsibilities are in spring training, Meyer answered: Why, that question is easy to answer. Shouldn’t he be my successor?
Given that the Pirates have had two terrible seasons, it would be a reasonable assumption if it weren’t for two things. First of all, Shookforth didn’t want to become a major league manager – too much effort. Second: Ricky wasn’t looking for quick fixes. He had to find players, and he called Sokeforth an umpire with baseball skills, one of the best.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Courtesy of The Topps Company, Inc.
The 1952 Pirates were one of the worst teams in baseball history, finishing the 42-112 season, 54½ games behind the Dodgers. Meyer resigned and was replaced by Fred Haney, but the Pirates never left last place in 53 or 54. In the mid-season 54, Rickey sent Sukeforth, who was still coaching, to Richmond to see if Montreal pitcher Joe Black was worth the trip. Sukeforth shows up conscientious at the batting practice to talk to Black. However, his attention was caught by another player who took the BP.
In Roberto Clemente’s biography, The Great One, by Bruce Marcusen, Black remembers: came to me and said: Who’s the pitcher who hits all the balls? I said: What jug?
It turns out the Dodgers tried to hide Clemente because his drawing bonus qualified him to be caught in the Rule 5 draft at the end of the season. Shookforth picked up the story in an interview with Sports Digest Sports Collectors in 1994:
They had practiced on and off the field, and there was a guy who had a very good arm. They couldn’t help noticing. But he wasn’t playing. … I saw him practicing baseball for the next four nights, and his form was a little unorthodox, but he had a good run. … So I wrote Mr. Ricky. I said: Joe Black hasn’t started, but I have a project for you.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Without Clyde Suckforth, who writer Jimmy Breslin called the coach for the third basic story, the great Roberto Clemente of the Pirates might never have come to Cooperstown. MLB photos/MLB through Getty Images
When all the Scouts met at Ricky’s farm near Pittsburgh at the end of the season to decide who would be the first choice in the design, it seemed everyone had a choice. Ricky asked if you had a candidate, Clyde. And Sukeforth said Clemente is definitely our man. Ricky trusted Sookie, but he wanted to check it out. Ricky, 72, flew to Puerto Rico to see Clemente play for Santuras in the Winter League, where he fought for the title with one of his teammates, midfielder Willie Mays. The 22nd. In November 1954, the Pirates stole Clement from the Dodgers for $4,000.
With the blessing of Bing Crosby, co-owner of the team, Ricky has already started a youth movement. That same year, the Pirates signed a 17-year-old shortstop from Tiltonsville, Ohio, called Bill Mazeroski. Pittsburgh had just given up their shortstop to star basketball player Dick Groth, so Ricky asked Mazeroski to move to second base. The Pirates enjoyed outfielder Bob Skinner and pitchers Bob Friend and Vern Lowe. (Act, originally from Idaho, signed with the Pirates because Crosby called his mother). They also took the Elroy Face pitcher out of the dump and offered to teach him how to throw a fork.
But there’s a candidate from Brooklyn who eludes them, someone from Tak Rickey Jr. and Sokeforth was very high up: Sandy Koufax. For her definitive biography of the same name, Koufax (subtitled A Lefty’s Legacy), Jane interviewed Levy Sukefort during the last year of her life. How hard he threw, Shookforth said. Stronger than any of us. It’s got what you’re looking for in functions. I mean, God’s been good to him.
In the summer of ’54 Soukefort organised a private audition at Forbes Field for Koufax. The cave was a witness. As I walked through the gate, he told Lavie, I saw the whole gang from Pittsburgh – Branch Rickey Sr., Clyde Shookforth, Rex Bowen, George Sisler, Fred Haney – and there’s a young guy throwing, a great body, a wonderful delivery.
Koufax’s receiver that day was Pirate Coach Sam Narron. Here’s how author Roger Kahn described the session:
Koufax threw harder and harder until the fastball finally broke Sam Narron’s finger, a finger protected by the catcher’s glove. Ricky said softly to Suckforth: It’s the best hand I’ve ever seen.
Fault! The file name is not specified. After their success with the Dodgers’ subsidiary, Rickey and Clyde Suckforth enjoyed another success in Pittsburgh, where Rickey made the Pirates a winner under the watchful eye of team co-owner Bing Crosby. AP Photo/Frank Filan
Unfortunately Ricky’s nemesis, Dodger owner Walter O’Malley, was more generous with his money than Pirate owner John Galbreath, and Koufax signed with Brooklyn. The Pirates finished last again in 1955, and Ricky and Sukey could see the Dodgers win the World Series in seven games against the hated Yankees in Robinson, Campanella, Newcomb, Gilliam, Black and Koufax.
Due to health problems Rickey handed over the reins to GM Joe L. Brown at the end of the season. Yet the old man remained on the council until August 1959.
When the Pirates fired Bobby Bragan as captain after 103 games in 1957, Clyde was offered the job. Again he rejected the chance to become a major league manager. I don’t ask much of life, he once said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Bidermans, but I want satisfaction. I could never find him as a manager. I have a happy family life, I have a farm in Waldoboro and I set up Christmas trees, among other things.
But he left a gift for the pirates to put under the tree. He convinced Brown and a hesitant Ricky that Coach Danny Murtaugh, the other man in Rockwell’s picture, was the man for the job. (The world titles of 1960 and 1971 should prove him right).
At the end of season 57 Sukeforth announced his retirement. I started playing baseball in 1926, he told Biderman, and I think it’s time to retire to my family and the farm. … I made a promise to my wife and daughter, and I will keep it.
So he took a break and saw the pirates change course from a distance. He became involved in Democratic Party politics, which is ironic given that Jackie Robinson became a supporter of the Republican Party. Then the Pirates won their first championship in 35 years and Kennedy started his new stage. Suckforth’s daughter grew up and moved to Texas, his wife became a postmaster at Waldoboro….. and Seukeforth’s jitters started up again.
After visiting some baseball friends in Florida, he agreed to help the Pirates in their small leagues. In 1965 he headed their Class A branch of the Western Carolina League in Gastonia. One of his players was an insider from Sacville, New Brunswick, named Murray Cook. What a great old man he was, says Cook, who became general manager of the New York Yankees, the Montreal Expos and the Cincinnati Reds. He was there in the sixties, catching pitchers, practising throwing and passing on his wisdom. I learned so much from Clyde.
One day, however, one of our pitchers, Billy Quinn, dropped a wild ball when he knocked down some Clyde. Very scary. He was upstairs and the team doctor, who was a neurosurgeon, came to examine him. When Clyde arrived, the doctor told him he was taking him to the hospital because they might have to operate on him. Clyde told him he couldn’t do it for religious reasons. He was a Christian scientist, I think.
So he gets together, then the team and tells us: Look, guys, I’m going back to Maine to recover. If I’m not back here in three weeks, I’m dead. A few weeks later he shows up and can’t wait any longer.
Before P.J. Shelley, Suckforth Forrest was Gump. For Toby Hass, it was Zelig. For baseball historian Carl Lindholm, a Maine resident, Clyde was an odyssey. That’s what Lindholm, who gave a course on black leagues at Middlebury College, wrote for the spring 2014 issue of the Baseball Research Journal :
He was a mythical young man from the provinces who went to the city and played in an epic drama, after an extraordinary adventure career he returned to his Ithaca – Waldoboro – to live a long life, a wise man in the serenity of old age in a familiar and comforting environment.
Fault! The file name is not specified. I wanted to play ball, Suckforth once said – along with my fellow Dodger receivers, Al Lopez and Ray Berres, during spring training in 1934. That’s all I wanted to do. Transcendent Charts/Getty Pictures
When Sukefort finally realized he was too old to wear the uniform, he became a scout for the Braves, covering New England and the Atlantic provinces. In 1972 Shookforth went to New York to catch up.
It seems that the U.S. Virgin Islands government organized a special dinner at Mama Leone’s in honor of Jackie Robinson. Ralph Branca, Bobby Thomson and Joe Black were there. We asked Sukefort to talk, but he refused. But he posed with Robinson. Judging by their smiling faces, they continued where they left off.
A few days later Suekfort received a letter from Robinson on the stationery of the Jackie Robinson Construction Corporation in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Dated 21. July 1972, partly read:
Although not enough has been said about your important contribution to the Ricky Robinson experience, I think that your role, apart from that of Mr Ricky and my wife, yes, is greater than that of any other person with whom I have been in contact. I have always considered you to be one of the real giants in this original baseball business, for which I am sincerely grateful.
Three months later, on the 24th. October, Jackie Robinson dies at the age of 53. And on the last day of the year 72, Clemente was killed in a plane crash on his way to Nicaragua to help the victims of the earthquake.
RESULTS , as on the bat. Dated the 11th. November 1980, this is a letter Clyde wrote on Brave stationery to another Ricky student, Rex Bowen. (In a very delicate gesture, Rex’s son hands it over to Jack).
In the letter Clyde talks about going to Texas to visit Helen and her grandchildren, and maybe moving to warmer countries, but Gretel is not happy about it, except that he has a dozen lobster traps and a Breton spaniel who will be a very good bird dog. And then, bird to bird, he goes to a baseball game:
I saw the two pitchers you mentioned on television and they were certainly impressive, especially after seeing the staff of the three millionaires Red Sox, Eckersley, Campbell and Torrez. Eckersley also raises the shoulder stairs with the men at the base, and all three have a steep forefoot and fall off everywhere. (Note: Eckersley just came out of a 12-14 season and was still a few years away from perfecting his performance and playing full-time).
Clyde and Gretel are nestled in their house by the water. Clyde invested wisely and then, in 1977, the unexpected happened – Gretel won $150,000 in the Maine lottery. Here it is with the number of the picture of the 9th in the Biddeford Journal Tribune. June. With an apology to Red Smith, the numbers look huge. Thirteen.
Now retired and a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, he renewed his childhood loyalty to the Red Sox, taking care of their lobsters and tomato pots and taking stopwatches for local baseball games, whether in college, high school or the Little League. Bill Maxwell, the firefighter who showed Toby Hoos around Waldoboro, said I know I’ve worked most of my life. And because I was in baseball, I often saw him – as if it wasn’t a real game if he wasn’t sitting with his stopwatch on his chair on the lawn, as if he was still trying to be a Hall of Famer. It meant saying something to the children: See that old man over there? He found Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente.
However, one day, during a game of the American Legion, he was sitting in a chair at the side of first base when a foul ball hit him in the wrist. We all rushed, but he pushed us away. Don’t worry, he said. I’ve been shot before.
Shookforth could have lived his life in the dark without Ken Burns, who drove his team four hours from Walpole, New Hampshire, to Waldoboro in 1992. He couldn’t tell the story of National Recreation without Jackie Robinson, and he couldn’t tell the story of Jackie without Clyde Shookforth.
It was a rainy day, Burns remembers, and we took a dirt road to his house through the water. We talked to a lot of people, of course because of baseball, but Clyde is etched in my memory because he was so humble, decent and kind. Here we interviewed one of the semi-finalists in the game, and it was like talking to a fisherman in Maine. He gave us four and a half hours, which is a lot, and he gave us a clearer picture of how Ricky and Jackie were.
There were other guests. Murray Cooke stopped on his way to New Brunswick. Helen had four children and eleven grandchildren. There were ball games and picnics during family visits in the summer. Brian O’Gara, now vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball, collapsed in October 1994: I’m from Westbrook, Maine, and Frank Slocum, who knew Clyde when he was with the Dodgers and head of the baseball relief team, thought I should meet him. I met Clyde at the cabin, and it was like reliving baseball history through your grandfather’s eyes. The All-Star Game was in Pittsburgh this year, so he was particularly excited to talk about his time with the Pirates.
In October 1995, one year after the premiere of baseball, the Gibbs Library in Washington, Maine, held an exhibition dedicated to Shookforth. Looking at all the black and white photographs covering the walls at the opening, he asked: Why do you care about the second receiver? Later, during a question and answer session with the local Little Leagers, he was asked what his favorite moment in his career was.
I’ve loved every day.
Since 1997 celebrating the 50th anniversary of recruit Jackie Robinson, Suckforth has been particularly busy. The late, great Dave Anderson of the New York Times, who knew Suckforth when he worked for the Brooklyn Eagle, visited him at Camden Medical Center in March-he recovered from a broken pelvis as he slid down his front steps in the cold. I can be better, but I can also be worse, Clyde Anderson said. I think that goes for all of us. When Anderson asked him the secret of his longevity, he answered at 5 a.m. to get up and eat an apple every day. … My grandfather grew some of the best apples. He had about 20 different types, but some faded. There is also competition in this competition.
Tak Ricky III was also present at the film for the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Seeing him reminded me of my grandfather and father, Ebbets and Forbes Field, the way Clyde leaned forward, the softness of his voice.
I remember closing our conversation with three questions. The first one was: What do you think my grandfather’s legacy is? Clyde reacted, like some kind of monotonous Robinson.
The second one was: What do you think his legacy should be? Clyde thought about it and said: How far ahead it is on everyone, not just baseball.
And the third was: What else do you know about him? His answer surprised and excited me. His sympathies, he says.
If his accent isn’t enough to make it sound like he’s from Maine, Clyde Shookforth wears a lumberjack shirt. It’s 1996, and he’s talking into the camera. The Hall of Fame is here.
As he oscillates between the two, Shookforth remembers Robinson’s professional debut in Jersey City in ’46: The day before, Frank Shaughnessy, the president of the International League, had called a hearing with Mr. Rickey: Don’t bring that guy in here, or there’s gonna be a race riot. Mr. Ricky never interrupted anyone because he wanted a full complaint. He says: Frank, Robinson’s gonna play, and I’m gonna throw everything I have or can borrow to make sure he’s the most popular guy in the ball park after the game. That was an understatement.
Ted Spencer, who was head curator at the time, and Bruce Markusen, the researcher who was to conduct the interviews, drove from Cooperstown to Waldoboro. Sukefort was at home with Grietje in the cottage.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Moody’s Diner, a Maine institution and one of Clyde Shookforth’s favourite restaurants, has been serving comfortable food to both local customers and celebrities such as Ted Williams since 1927. Facebook/@MoodysDiner1927
It’s freezing cold, but it’s turned out to be a beautiful day, Spencer says. We’re staying at Moody’s… I had cheddar cheese sausage. Clyde gave us an excellent interview, but what bothers me is his reaction when we talked about Rachel – he asked questions about her with real affection. I remember that, too: After our conversation, he wanted to go bird hunting.
He was there, says Markusen, at the so-called end of the world, at the end of an extraordinary life. But no matter how important his role has been in the history of baseball, he has never considered himself important. He was happy to live on a dirt road, away from the limelight.
Lanny Winchenbach is a fisherman who at that time and for a long time lived next to the Sukeforts. He says we’ve been neighbors for 30 years. I loved that guy. I looked out the window and saw him watching his grandchildren play ball with his great-grandchildren, or share firewood or lobster, and I would smile. I’m still laughing at the way he put his hand in the pocket of his hunter’s jacket to remove the tobacco, only to discover that his dog Darin….
At one point my truck went down the slope on the ice and I was lying on my side because I was afraid that someone would step over the hill and I would get T’d. I ran to Clyde’s house and he took me to safety with his four-wheel drive.
He was the definition of a good neighbor. When I came home late at night, he looked out of the kitchen window like I was okay. For weeks after his death, I looked out the window and expected to see half of him.
Sukefort left more than a memory in Winchenbach. I’ve got his stopwatch, Winchenbach said.
After lunch, , three softball players swing on the Clyde L. Sukeforth Memorial Field at the Waldoboro Recreation Complex. The left-handed batter has a nice strikeout as he strikes the pitcher’s ball after the pitcher’s ball to the right field, where the woman skillfully catches him and sends him back to the mound. Softball, yes, and only three of them, but Sokeforth would enjoy the scene.
Gretel died on the 30th. September 1999 at the age of 82. She was apparently a very nice woman who supported Clyde for 48 years. She knew that when he died, he’d be buried with Helen.
After Shookforth’s death on the 3rd. In September 2000, Anderson wrote his obituary for The Times, calling him the scout and manager of Brooklyn who led Jackie Robinson to two Player Hall of Fame milestones as the first African-American in modern baseball. He giggled about jobs with the manager.
In the years after his death Sukefort was still celebrated. The Washington General Store dedicated issue 11 of its uniform edition of Dodgers to pizza – meatballs, pepperoni, bacon, pickles, onions, spicy ketchup, mustard sauce, provolone and mozzarella. Waldoboro’s selection committee plans to dedicate a new playing field to the Sukeforth complex. When he was first. In May 2010, Derek Zimmerman, one of his grandsons, threw the first ball. Five years later, the Little League State Tournament was held there.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Shortly after he was cast as Jackie Robinson in 42 years, actor Chadwick Boseman met Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow. Bosman and Gus were both warmly welcomed by Rachel, with whom writer-director Brian Helgeland consulted about the script. Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Toby Hass remembers a time when Rachel Robinson was in a series of 42. When I was introduced as the man who played Clyde Sukeforth, she just hugged me.
Ken Burns also resurrected Shookforth by re-recording footage from 1992 for Jackie Robinson’s 2016 documentary. The two baseballs, the sixth hostel is a Shookforth moment, and the documentary that follows is worth watching, especially at this pivotal moment in history.
It’s a good thing Shookforth keeps getting his maid. Tiger Cumming, a high school sports columnist for the Lincoln County News, recently wrote an article about the man who named his minor league field after him, quoting Shookforth who said he was not a good scout and would only select the Hall of Famers. It seems to be a good reconnaissance.
Another is Alex Coffey, covering Oakland A’s for Athletic. She first wrote about Sukeforth when she worked for the Hall of Fame in 2016, and then picked it up again at Waldoboro in a moving article she wrote for The Athletic last spring.
This part of Maine is a sacred place for me and my family, she says. We summarised it at Round Pond, just down the road. And since my father, Wayne Coffey, was a sports writer who loved baseball and did, writing about Clyde was a dream assignment.
For his information Coffey contacted Helen Zimmerman, Clyde’s daughter. Today Helen is 82 years old and, like her father, she didn’t want to get seriously involved in the history of baseball. But she remembers him talking about his first meeting with Robinson: Jackie told him that white scouts don’t come to the black leagues very often. He assumed someone was trying to be funny and joking. His father had a hard time convincing him it was legal.
When I contacted Zimmerman I discovered that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, even though his Texan accent is about as pronounced as that of Sukeforth from Maine. She remembers going to the Ebbets and Polo Field to see Robinson play. But I’m a Rangers fan now, she says. Ever since Daddy took us to the first Rangers game at Arlington… When asked who her favorite Ranger was, she said: Isiah, of course.
Shookforth would have appreciated that. Known as the Hawaiian Hustle, Isiah Kiner-Falefa can play four positions, including the receiver. It is also proof that Jackie Robinson has opened up a world of possibilities – Isaiah of Samoan, Hawaiian and Japanese descent.
Dennis Zimmerman also remembers the first Rangers game in 1972. Clyde took us to the field and introduced us to the director, he says. Ted Williams. In the years that followed, Dennis saw his own son, Dillan, become an elite jug. I wish my grandfather had seen him throw it. He played for the Perfect Game Baseball Academy in Orlando with Dante Bichette Jr., who was a concept pick for the Yankees.
Fault! The file name is not specified. I regard your role [in the Ricky Robinson experience], along with Mr. Ricky and my wife, as more than any other person I have been in contact with, as a letter from Robinson to Shookforth in 1972. Photo AP
We’ll see about that. Sukefort’s great-grandson played with his son Dante Bichette, who played in Milwaukee with Hall of Famer member Robin Yount, who played for Del Crandall, who caught Johnny Cain, who was the first pitcher in the big leagues Jackie Robinson faced.
All roads lead to the path of friendship.
I remember crossing Waldoboro with him, Dennis says. He’d wave at anybody. He never wanted to move south. He was a real Mainiac.
He never wanted people to turn around, and his tombstone is proof of that. But it turns out his epitaph was already done on the 17th. November 1957, when Bob Cook, sports editor of the New York Herald Tribune, wrote it at the time of the Shookforth retreat:
Baseball players from dugout to dugout called him Sukey, and there was a lot of affection in that nickname. Clyde never talked about it, but he had a reputation for coaching everyone. Many people, whether or not he is part of the same team as Sukeforth, have come to him for advice and help. And there’s never been a player who, after visiting Sookie, hasn’t benefited.
Clyde Leroy Suckforth was a lucky man, and baseball was lucky to have him. It turns out that happiness can also be a residue of decency.