Seventy years ago today, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers made his debut at Ebbets Field. This historic moment marked the first time in the twentieth century that an African-American played major league baseball.
Fifty years later, on April 15, 1997, President Bill Clinton paid tribute to Jackie Robinson in Shea Stadium, and Major League Baseball retired his number 42 throughout the league. “No man is bigger than baseball,” commissioner Bud Selig said, “except Jackie Robinson. Jackie Robinson is bigger than baseball.”
By signing Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers had ended the institutionalized racial segregation in baseball that had existed since the 1880s. Robinson endured the slings and arrows of racial slurs bravely and stoically, proving through his play on the field that blacks were just as capable as whites of playing outstanding baseball. Whether you are a baseball fan or not, there is little doubt that Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier impacted the history of America. As the world continues to face issues of hatred and discrimination today, perhaps Robinson’s example is one we should all keep in mind as we continue to strive forward.
In honor of Jackie Robinson Day, this year I decided to simply go with a handful of basic facts about this celebrated ballplayer.
Birth Name: Jack Roosevelt Robinson
Born: January 31, 1919 in Cairo, GA
Died: October 24, 1972 in Stamford, CT
Married: Rachel Issum on February 10, 1946
Children: Jackie Jr., Sharon, and David
Height: 5′ 11″
Weight: 204 lb.
College Education: UCLA
Professional Team: Brooklyn Dodgers
Debut: April 15, 1947
Years Played: 1947-56
President Theodore Roosevelt, who died 25 days before Robinson was born, was the inspiration for his middle name.
He was the youngest of five children and grew up in relative poverty in a well-off community in Pasadena, California.
Robinson was the first ever four-sport letter winner at UCLA (football, track, basketball and baseball).
Robinson played Minor League Baseball for the Montreal Royals in 1946, until he was called up to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Major Leagues in 1947.
He won Rookie of the Year in 1947 with a batting average of .297, 175 hits, 12 home runs, and 48 runs batted in.
He was a six time All-Star between the years 1949 to 1954.
In 1982, Jackie Robinson became the first Major League Baseball player to appear on a US postage stamp.
Shortly before his death, Jackie Robinson was selected to throw out the first pitch at the 1972 World Series, the 25th anniversary of his breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
Fifty years after he became the first modern black player, Major League Baseball chose his number as the first one to ever retire for every team.
As the 105th day of the Gregorian calendar, April 15 brings with it a sense of apprehension and urgency for many United States residents. On this day, Tax Day, Americans must submit their individual federal tax returns or file for an extension. Stories of long lines at the post office will flood the news as procrastinators rush to avoid penalty for their negligence. But April 15 serves as more than just a deadline.
The ancient Romans observed the Fordicidia on April 15, a festival of fertility involving the sacrifice of a pregnant cow. On an international scale, World Art Day, first celebrated in 2012, promotes the appreciation of art and creativity. In the world of Major League Baseball, we celebrate Jackie Robinson Day.
Jackie Robinson played his first Major League game with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, making him the first black Major League ballplayer of the modern era. To this day, we celebrate the courage and resilience it took to step out on that field and endure a season full of mixed feelings, ranging from hopeful excitement, to cautious tolerance, to unadulterated hatred. While a myriad of books and movies strive to depict the tumultuous circumstances Robinson bore that day and that season, nothing could ever fully capture the turmoil felt by Robinson himself.
Imagine, for a moment, stepping out on a Major League baseball diamond for the first time. Your spouse sits in the stands, perhaps alongside a small group of other friends and family. Aside from them and your teammates, most people in that stadium have never seen or met you before. In spite of this, you brace yourself against the inevitable slings and arrows of abuse you inevitably know to expect, because to some people, your physical appearance means more than the years of hard work and the uncanny ability you have shown on the field.
Newspapers have written about you, scrutinizing your abilities, your resolve, your motivations. You have made headlines in the past, being arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus. Your temper, short and explosive, has created a reputation that precedes your person.
Your heart pounds violently as your cleats puncture the grass of the infield. Internally, your emotions vacillate between stubborn pride and a vague sense of fear and foreboding that you attempt to ignore. You try to keep your steps light, in spite of the heaviness of the burden on your shoulders and the weight of thousands of eyes staring directly at you. You make an effort to clear your mind and allow your baseball instincts to take over your actions, but you cannot disregard the staggering pressure to perform.
Jackie Robinson not only overcame this pressure, he did so in a way that, sixty-seven years later, we continue to remember and celebrate his influence upon the baseball world. In 1997, baseball
commissioner Bud Selig mandated the retirement of number 42 across all of Major League Baseball. As a tribute to Robinson, however, every player across all thirty Major League teams will wear 42 during today’s games.
Prior to this evening’s Yankees-Cubs match-up in New York, members of Robinson’s family, Bud Selig, and members of the Steinbrenner family are expected to attend festivities at Yankees Stadium. Fittingly, as part of the event, the Yankees plan to unveil a plaque honoring Nelson Mandela, the late South African president who stood against apartheid.
In addition to the main event in the Bronx, teams across baseball will have their own methods for celebrating Robinson’s legacy. In Minnesota, for example, the Twins have dubbed this Celebrate Diversity Day. In Chicago, the White Sox will host a panel titled “Jackie Robinson: A Catalyst for Change in American Society,” in which White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, executive vice president Kenny Williams, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and historian Carol Adams will present their views on Robinson’s impact. And these are just a handful out of many examples.
At the end of the day, however, all of our tributes and celebrations will never provide us with the perspective to fully comprehend and appreciate what Robinson, himself, experienced in 1947. That experience will forever stay with Robinson alone. No doubt, his legacy remains more than deserving of all the honors we bestow upon his memory, but until the end of baseball history, there can only ever be one Jackie Robinson.
Yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day, the sixty-sixth anniversary of Robinson’s Major League debut. To celebrate and recognize Robinson’s impact on baseball and on the nation as a whole, his number 42 was worn on jerseys throughout baseball, a number that had been retired throughout the MLB in 1997 by Commissioner Bud Selig.
With the release of the movie “42” this past weekend, Jackie Robinson Day has received a significantly greater amount of attention this year. At Dodger Stadium yesterday, Harrison Ford, who played Branch Rickey in “42,” threw out the ceremonial first pitch. (For those who don’t know, Branch Rickey was the general manager that provided Robinson with the opportunity to join the Dodgers in the 1940s.) Former Brooklyn Dodgers ball boy, Norman Berman, threw out the ceremonial first pitch in Miami.
The movie itself proved to be a hit at the box office. Drawing in over $27 million over the weekend, “42” has possibly established itself as the most successful baseball movie ever. This proved to be the most successful opening weekend for a baseball movie ever, and it was definitely the most successful movie overall for the weekend. The timing of the movie’s release no doubt aided its success, with the start of baseball season still fresh in the minds of fans and, of course, yesterday being Robinson’s holiday. Predictions have been floating around that the flick could wind up making around $100 million.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to watch the film this weekend with my dad, and I highly recommend it. If you like baseball, history, civil rights, sports in general, or even business, this movie is worth watching. If all you want is an entertaining drama, this movie does that too. Virtually everybody can derive some kind of enjoyment from this movie. It is being applauded for its accuracy in the retelling of Jackie Robinson’s early experiences. It’s not perfect, of course, but no historical film ever is. We get introduced to Chadwick Boseman, who plays a compelling Jackie Robinson, and we also get the pleasure of seeing Han Solo/Indiana Jones star as the man who made it all happen.
But don’t take my word for it. Go see the movie for yourself! You won’t be disappointed. And if you missed out on the opportunity to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day yesterday, you can still have your chance today, as those Major League Baseball teams that did not play yesterday will be sporting the number 42 today.