This is the first of a three-part series about Old Greenwich native and Connecticut baseball legend Mike Sandlock.
Mike Sandlock loves to talk about baseball's Golden Age, the 1940s and 50s. And it's more than just history for Sandlock -- he lived it. At 94, Sandlock is one of the oldest living former Major League players. He also played a supporting, but important, role in one of the most culture-changing moments of 20th century America.
Sandlock, one of just five men from Greenwich to make it to the majors, had his most productive years with the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1944 to 1946. His most successful season came in 1945, when he batted .282 with the only two home runs of his career and 17 RBIs. Before spring training in 1947, though, everything would change for Sandlock, baseball and the country.
"It was spring training in 1947 and [Dodgers owner Branch] Rickey called me into his office and told me, 'I've got Jackie Robinson coming here to spring training,' " Sandlock recalled. "And Mr. Rickey says, 'Would you play pepper with Jackie?' And I said, 'Why not?' I had no problem with Jackie, but there was a big rhubarb about him coming up."
The "rhubarb" response to baseball's first African-American player joining the team caused such high tension among the players that even playing a simple warmup game like pepper required intervention from the team owner. Several Dodgers even signed a petition saying they would refuse to play if Robinson was allowed on the team. Sandlock refused to have anything to do with the petition and considered Robinson a great player.
"I tell you, he was quite an athlete," Sandlock said. "He was good in everything he participated in. He had all the fundamentals and the movements. He was a great, great human being to me."
The two men became closer in retirement, when Robinson moved to Stamford and they would cross paths on the golf course. Sandlock has been a fixture on local golf courses since retiring, and amazingly, he still hits the links twice a week at Innis Arden Golf Club for nine holes -- and to talk baseball.
Check back next Monday for part two of Mike Sandlock's story.
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