TAMPA, Fla. — Scotty Bowman was 12 years old when he saw Jackie Robinson play in Montreal. More than 70 years later, Bowman says Montreal welcomed Robinson during the Hall of Famer’s one season with the International League Royals.
“Adoration,” the winningest coach in NHL history said. “Montreal fans embraced him.”
Robinson ended racial segregation in major league baseball on April 15, 1947 when he made his big league debut at first base in a Brooklyn Dodgers home game against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field.
Robinson is honoured every April with ceremonies throughout baseball. All MLB players will wear his retired No. 42 jersey in Saturday’s games.
Robinson’s journey to Brooklyn had one final stop after being signed in 1945 by Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey: a season in the minor leagues.
Bowman attended Sunday games at Delorimier Stadium in 1946, where Robinson was part of a powerful Dodgers Triple-A team that won the IL title and the Junior World Series. Robinson hit .349 with three homers, 66 RBIs, 113 runs scored and 40 stolen bases over 124 games in his lone minor league season.
“He could have played in Brooklyn that year,” Bowman said. “We went to the games, my friends and I, and you could see it. He was an all-around player.”
Robinson remains revered in Montreal. The house where he rented an apartment is a landmark.
“They made it a heritage building,” Bowman said.
Robinson, raised in California, got a taste of the Canadian winter as the Royals capped off the year by beating the American Association’s Louisville Colonels for the Junior World Series championship.
“It was snowing in one of the games,” said Bowman, currently a senior adviser with the Chicago Blackhawks. “It didn’t bother them, they won.”
After Bowman had his hopes of an NHL playing career derailed by injuries, he eventually ended up becoming a Montreal legend, too. Five of Bowman’s NHL-record nine Stanley Cup coaching championships came from 1973-79 while with the Montreal Canadiens.