While Black History Month comes to a close, it’s still important to celebrate the trailblazers that made baseball more inclusive. This series started with Minnie Miñoso and continues with one of the greatest trailblazers in sports history, Jackie Robinson.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia, in 1919. His mother raised Jackie and his four siblings. As the only Black family on the block, the Robinson family endured plenty of racism early on.
Robinson excelled early at all sports. He attended UCLA and became the first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track. In 1941, he was named to the All-American football team.
Due to financial restrictions, Robinson had no other choice but to leave college and enlist in the U.S. Army. Robinson’s army career was cut short when he was arrested and court-martialed while serving in the Army for refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus. He was eventually acquitted of the charges and was honorably discharged.
In 1945, Robinson played one season in the Negro Baseball League with the Kansas City Monarchs. In 1946, Robinson joined the Montreal Royals, a farm team for the Dodgers, and led the International League with a .349 average and 40 stolen bases.
By 1947, Robinson earned a promotion to the Dodgers. Robinson made his National League debut on April 15, 1947, as Brooklyn’s first baseman.
Breaking The Color Barrier
By putting on his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform, Robinson courageously broke down the color barrier that kept African-American players out of the major leagues. Robinson was forced to endure teammates and crowds who opposed his presence and threats to himself and his family.
MLB had not had an African-American player since 1889, when baseball became segregated. Because of this, fans threw bottles at him, pitchers purposely aimed for his head, and other players spiked him with their shoes in deliberately rough slides into bases.
Due to Jim Crow Laws, Robinson was not able to stay in hotels or eat in restaurants with the rest of his team. The St. Louis Cardinals also threatened to strike if Robinson took the field.
Robinson’s rookie season with the Dodgers ended with honors, becoming the National League Rookie of the Year with 12 home runs, a league-leading 29 steals, and a .297 average. In 1949, he was selected as the National League’s Most Valuable Player of the Year and also won the batting title with a .342 average.
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson
Robinson continued to prove how valuable he truly was, despite dealing with teammates and fans who didn’t want to include him. The Dodgers won six pennants in Robinson’s 10 seasons and captured the 1955 World Series title. Robinson retired with a .313 batting average, 972 runs scored, 1,563 hits, and 200 stolen bases.
Robinson’s impact didn’t stop with baseball. Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted saying “Jackie Robinson made my success possible. Without him, I would never have been able to do what I did.” Robinson was also a spokesperson for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and appeared with Martin Luther King Jr.
After retiring from baseball in 1957, Robinson was hired to serve as the Vice President for Personnel at Chock Full O’Nuts. Robinson was the first African-American to be named a vice president of a major American company.
In 1962, Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 1964, Robinson co-founded Freedom National Bank of Harlem, a Black-owned and operated bank. The purpose of the bank was to financially aid African American communities. By 1970, he founded the Jackie Robinson Construction Company, which sought to provide housing for low-income people.
In 1973, with the assistance of Martin L. Edelman, Charles Williams, and Franklin H. Williams, Jackie’s wife Robin Robinson honored his memory by establishing The Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF). The JRF provides four-year scholarships, career guidance, internship placement, and leadership development opportunities to college students with limited financial resources. To date, 1,700 college scholars from 45 states who have attended 260 colleges and universities have benefitted from JRF’s Scholars Program.
Robinson’s number was retired in 1997. In 2007, MLB started celebrating Jackie Robinson Day, as mentioned above. On April 15 each season, every team in the majors celebrates Jackie Robinson Day in honor of when he broke the color barrier in baseball. Players, coaches, and umpires don the number 42 to celebrate Robinson.
In 1984 Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor for an American civilian.
Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)