Jackie Robinson

Jun 11th, 2010 | By | Category: Sports
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Jackie Robinson1919-1972 The first African American in the twentieth century to play major league baseball, Jackie Robinson was undoubtedly one of the most influential men in the history of America’s favorite pastime, and the first ballplayer of any race to appear on a United States postage stamp. He has been called the most significant ballplayer in the history of the game.

When Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field as a Brooklyn Dodger on April 15th, 1947, he broke the color barrier and changed the face of baseball forever, paving the way for Black baseball players from that historic moment forward.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. The family soon moved to California, where Robinson attended Pasadena Junior College and later UCLA. He became the first athlete in the history of UCLA to letter in four sports in the same year: baseball, football, basketball, and track. Robinson reached the semifinals of the National Negro tennis tournament, won several swimming championships at UCLA and, in 1940, won the NCAA long jump title. He would likely have gone to the 1940 Olympics had they not been canceled due to the outbreak of war. His brother, Mack Robinson, was the 1936 Olympic 200 meters silver medallist, just fourtenths of a second off Jesse Owens’ gold medal performance.

Forced to drop out of UCLA in his third year to help support his mother, Robinson played professional football for the Los Angeles Bulldogs of the Pacific Coast League in 1941. In 1942, Robinson entered the army to serve in WWII. Stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, Robinson faced a court martial proceeding for refusing to sit at the back of a bus.

Vehement protests to Army brass and an appeal from world heavyweight champ Joe Louis, also stationed at Fort Riley, convinced the base to change its policies. Jackie Robinson rose to the rank of lieutenant and was honorably discharged in 1945.

Becoming A Professional Baseball Player

After his service in the army, Robinson played baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs of the American Negro League until the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey, offered him a contract with the Dodger Farm club, the Montreal Royals of the International League. Robinson spent the 1946 season with Montreal based on Rickey’s belief that the racial confrontation Jackie was likely to face would be less severe in Canada. He was the first African American to play in the International League.

In 1947, in a landmark event that shocked the nation, Jackie was called up to the major leagues, becoming the first African American in the twentieth century to play major league baseball. Despite the searing racism and public resistance that plagued him, his athletic abilities prevailed. He won the respect he deserved and became a symbol of Black opportunity. The Sporting News, which had opposed Blacks in the major leagues, gave Robinson its first Rookie of the Year Award in 1947. The award was renamed in Robinson’s honor in 1987.

Jackie Robinson played his entire major league baseball career with the Brooklyn Dodgers. His outstanding 10-year career included compiling a .311 lifetime batting average, playing in six World Series, and stealing home 19 times. In 1949, he won the National League batting title and the Most Valuable Player award, when he led the league with a .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases. In 1954, he was the first National Leaguer in twenty-six years to steal his way around the bases. He set a club record for his fielding average and has been called the greatest second baseman of his era. In 1955, at the age of 36, he became one of only twelve players to steal home in the World Series. Robinson retired from baseball in 1957 after helping the Dodgers win six pennants and one World Series.

Life After Retirement

Upon retiring from baseball, Robinson turned his attention toward business, civil rights and politics. He served as a vice president of the restaurant and coffee chain Chock Full O’Nuts. As a public figure who campaigned for civil rights, he influenced such leaders as Dwight Eisenhower, Hubert Humphrey, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon. He traveled extensively to raise funds for the NAACP, was a supporter of the anti-defamation league and worked tirelessly over the years with community organizations and church groups. He also served on the board of managers of the Harlem YMCA where a building now bears his name. In 1958, he led 10,000 high school students in the Youth March for Integrated Schools in Washington D.C. and in 1968, he campaigned on behalf of Vice President Hubert Humphrey in his presidential bid. In 1962, Jackie Robinson, along with Bob Feller, were the first players since Lou Gehrig (in 1939) to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.
Jackie Robinson died in Stamford, CT on October 24, 1972. Two thousand people attended the eulogy in Riverside Church given by the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant in New York to witness the passage of the mile long cortege and to pay their respects to the man who changed the face of America’s national pastime.

Major league baseball celebrated the 50th anniversary of Jackie’s breaking the color barrier by retiring his number “42” during a ceremony at Shea Stadium in New York on April 15, 1997.

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