Terwilliger recalls time as Jackie's teammate
Infielder was with Brooklyn Dodgers four years after Robinson broke color barrier
Wayne Terwilliger is looking forward to seeing "42" after the Jackie Robinson biopic goes into national release on Friday. That doesn't make him different from millions of other people.
What makes him different is this: Twig, as he is universally known, played with Robinson. They were Brooklyn Dodgers teammates for part of the 1951 season; the second baseman was the star's backup. As the Boys of Summer pass away, that makes him part of an increasingly exclusive club.
Terwilliger will turn 88 in June. He spent over 60 decades in baseball, including nine years as a player in the Majors. But there are only a few baseball pictures displayed in his home in Weatherford, Texas. And the one that means the most to him prominently features Robinson, whose No. 42 in 1997, under the direction of Commissioner Bud Selig, was retired across all of Major League Baseball in an unprecedented tribute.
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"Jackie is shaking my hand and Pee Wee Reese is standing right behind him, waiting to shake my hand," Terwilliger said by phone. "I had just gotten a pinch-hit against the Cardinals in the ninth inning that won the game. If that isn't something. How many people get to have that happen, you know? That's my favorite baseball picture of all-time, just because of who it is.
"I'm proud of the fact that I played with Jackie Robinson. All those first-teamers are dead now. [Roy] Campanella, Billy Cox, Reese, Robinson. The first baseman [Gil Hodges]. Duke Snider. They're all gone now. But it's an honor for me to say I played with and against [Robinson]. And I have that picture."
Terwilliger signed with the Cubs in 1948 and was in the big leagues the following season. He has a vivid, if painful, memory of his first encounter with Robinson when they were still opponents.
"[Robinson] was on first base and we had a pickoff play on," Terwilliger recalled. "I went behind him from second base to cover first and the catcher threw the ball down. And he stepped right on my foot. I'll never forget that. I mean, it hurt. He didn't spike me, but he stepped on my foot.
"And the umpire called him safe. I pointed down to my foot and said, 'He never got to the base!' The umpire thought different, so that was that," he added with a laugh.
Terwilliger was traded to the Dodgers on June 15, 1951, as part of an eight-player deal. He remembers Robinson as being quiet. "He didn't say a heck of a lot." But there were a couple interactions that remain etched in Terwilliger's memory.
"[Robinson] was getting a minor operation on his foot and I played, I think, four games there in Ebbets Field," Terwilliger said. "One of the games I made a very simple backhand play toward second and flipped it to Reese. And after the game, [Robinson] came up to me and said, 'That was a heck of a play, Wayne. I never would have made that.' Well, it wasn't that tough and he would have made it. But that's the kind of guy he was.
"I also talked to him once in the hotel in Cincinnati. He was sitting by himself in the lobby, so I walked over and I asked him -- I don't remember word for word -- but I asked him what his goal was from now on in. He said it was to win the world championship. And he later got it. He was just a quiet guy. He and Reese were probably the close ones. Reese was really good about all the BS that went on."
Terwilliger said "all the BS" was over by the time he got to Brooklyn. Four years after the color line was broken, the hatred and prejudice Robinson had to endure was largely behind him, and Twig could simply admire Robinson's skills.
"He was just a hell of a player," Terwilliger said. "He was a great baserunner. He wasn't exceptionally fast, but he was a great baserunner. He could start and stop and he could just anticipate things. He was just a hell of a player. Every minute of it, he played hard."
In 2005, when he was 80, Terwilliger managed the independent Central League Fort Worth Cats to a championship. He coached for the team as recently as '08, and he's still trying to remain active.
"I wish I could get a damn job!" Terwilliger said, laughing again. "I've got my name in at Wal-Mart and Target. I've had it in for quite awhile. I finally went down and filled out [an application] to do whatever they want. They have greeters, you know, and the guys who push those carts around out in the parking lot. I told the person I talked to, 'Either one of those. Don't look at my damn age, I can push those carts around with the best of them.' And now I'm waiting to hear from them."
And Terwilliger was just as decisive when asked if he plans to see the movie.
"Hell, yeah," Terwilliger said firmly. "I saw the previews. The guy who's playing Branch Rickey [Harrison Ford]? He looks just like Rickey. And the guy who plays Jackie looks like him, too. So I'll look forward to seeing it."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.