Chattanooga has developed quite a Dodger baseball connection in recent years with the Lookouts’ affiliation and the recent filming of part of the movie, “42,” in the Scenic City.
But a strong East Tennessee historical connection to the Dodgers can also be found in Knoxville resident Pat McGlothin.
In fact, Jackie Robinson to Mr. McGlothin was not just a true American pioneer for his role in breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was also a teammate.
“Jackie was a fierce competitor,” recalled McGlothin from his residence in the Sequoyah Hills area of Knoxville last week after I had an opportunity to interview him. “I enjoyed playing with him.”
Mr. McGlothin, now 92 years old, played for the Dodgers during parts of the 1949 and 1950 seasons as a pitcher. As a result, he is one of the few people still living who played during the early years with Mr. Robinson and some of the other iconic Dodger players of that era, including Duke Snider and Pee Wee Reese.
As Chattanoogans are quite aware of, those players, particularly Mr. Robinson, have been back in the spotlight recently with the release of the movie, “42,” which focuses on the noted black star’s challenges and accomplishments during his debut season in the big leagues.
The movie, a large part of which was filmed at Engel Stadium in Chattanooga, was released on DVD just last week.
Mr. McGlothin was unable to get to a Knoxville area theater to see the movie due to some challenges with being confined to a wheelchair following a broken hip suffered about two years ago.
However, his son, Steve, did see the movie, and his father later confirmed that the incidents shown in the movie did take place, his son said.
The movie shows that life for Mr. Robinson between the white lines came easy, as he was a natural ballplayer with many skills and talents. But outside the lines, his world was obviously not easy during those mostly segregated times.
The pressures of that era no doubt affected him, as Mr. McGlothin remembers that Robinson had kind of a serious demeanor on and off the field.
“He was dead serious when it came to playing baseball,” said Mr. McGlothin, who wore No. 23 with the Dodgers. “He was likeable, but a little distant with me and all the other players except for the regulars.”
Despite the coolness emanating from Mr. Robinson, Mr. McGlothin warmed toward him and felt for him having to deal with all the racist taunts, which were still taking place in 1949 and 1950.
“They gave him a pretty rough time when we visited other clubs,” Mr. McGlothin recalled, adding that Mr. Robinson would still often have to eat at different restaurants and stay at different hotels. “He took a lot of heat from the fans.
“When they would ride you for so long, it would sort of get to you.”
He also remembers observing Mr. Robinson’s wife, Rachel, during that time, recalling that she was an outgoing person, although he did not get to know her well.
Like Mr. Robinson, a native Georgian, Ezra Mac “Pat” McGlothin was a son of the South. He grew up in Knoxville and graduated from Knoxville Central High in 1938. He played baseball for the University of Tennessee before playing the 1942 season with the Elizabethton professional team.
Mr. McGlothin played in the Navy during World War II, and once pitched in a 19-inning all-star military game that included such participants as Ted Williams and Ralph Kiner. “I struck Ted out three or four times in that all-star game,” he proudly said.
After the service, he joined the Mobile Bears, who were an affiliate of the Dodgers. He would later play into the early 1950s for such other Dodger-connected teams as St. Paul, Montreal, and Fort Worth. During that time, he managed to throw three no-hitters in the minor leagues, he said.
He also attended the Dodgers’ spring training for the various associated teams at Sanford, Fla., and later Vero Beach.
During his stint with the Dodgers, Mr. McGlothin pitched in seven games in 1949 and one early in 1950 as a reliever. Against the Chicago Cubs one year, he had a one-hitter after entering the game in the second inning.
The 1949 team lost in the World Series to the New York Yankees after Mr. McGlothin had been called back down to the minors, while the 1950 team finished second to the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League.
While short, his time in the big leagues was memorable.
“It was great,” said Mr. McGlothin, who in recent years has started getting a small yearly baseball pension. “Everybody knew about the Brooklyn Dodgers because they did a lot of crazy things and did a lot of good things, too. They won about four out of five pennants. Everybody knew the Brooklyn Dodgers.”
Of the other players besides Robinson, Mr. McGlothin recalled that Pee Wee Reese was a likeable player who would try to help a Dodger pitcher out by telling him a pitch to throw to a particular batter.
Centerfielder Duke Snider had a temperamental side, he said, recalling that he once hit a ball straight back to the pitcher for an out, and showed his frustration by sprinting back to the dugout.
“But he was a great player,” he said.
Among Mr. McGlothin’s better friends on the Dodgers teams were fellow pitchers Clem Labine, Don Erskine and Don Newcombe, another black Dodger pioneer, who Mr. McGlothin said took his place on the Dodger squad.
Mr. McGlothin also remembered some of the other people connected with the Dodger organization. He played some starting in the minor leagues with well-known future actor Chuck Connors of “The Rifleman” TV fame, who broke in with the Dodgers about the same time as Mr. McGlothin.
“He was real outgoing, a pretty good ballplayer and a big man,” Mr. McGlothin said. “And I remember that in nearly every town, he had a girlfriend.”
Mr. McGlothin also crossed paths in the minors with future Dodger manager Tommy LaSorda, remembering that he had a self-confident manner.
And, of course, Mr. McGlothin also became acquainted with Dodger executive and part-owner Branch Rickey, who was the man who brought Robinson to the big leagues and was portrayed by Harrison Ford in “42.”
“He was a pretty stern fellow, but he had a sense of humor,” recalled Mr. McGlothin, who signed a minimum salary of $7,500 with the Dodgers.
Regarding Mr. Rickey’s latter trait, he said that after they discussed Mr. McGlothin’s salary, Mr. Rickey asked him to ride in a taxi with him over to Manhattan. And when they reached their destination, Mr. Rickey, perhaps thinking he now had a well-paid major leaguer with him, surprisingly asked Mr. McGlothin to pay the cab fee.
“I guess I coughed up a little money,” he said with a laugh.
In his short stint with the Dodgers, Mr. McGlothin also became familiar with quaint Ebbets Field, where the Dodgers played. But as a pitcher, he did not like that the right field line was only 297 feet.
He remembered that Dodger right-fielder Carl Furillo mastered the art of getting a ball off the high wall and throwing out a runner trying to go from first to third.
After finishing his career as a player/manager with Knoxville, Mr. McGlothin – who still gets autograph requests in the mail regularly -- entered the insurance business. He continued raising a family, became an active member of Knoxville First Baptist Church, and settled into normal adult life away from professional sports.
In recent years, he still came into the family’s Mutual Insurance Agency office nearly every workday until falling and hurting his hip at age 90.
But as he talked recently, it was his throwing arm, not his hip, that was on his mind as he remembered the Dodgers of old and its civil rights pioneer, Mr. Robinson.
“I’m glad I got a chance to play with him,” he said. “He was a good player.