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.
Jackie Robinson’s impact on baseball is indisputable. It never occurred to me previously to search for his Hall of Fame speech, but the thought finally did come to me last night, and I’m glad it did. His speech is short, but it is spoken with a grace and humility that depicts how he was able to endure the trials of his playing days. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962.
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.
They call you an extremist if you want integration now–which is the only morally defensible position. To advise moderation is like going up to a stick-up man and saying to him: ‘Don’t use a gun. That’s violent. Why not be a pickpocket instead?’ A moderate is a moral pickpocket.
I had just turned 20, and Jackie told me the only way to be successful at anything was to go out and do it. He said baseball was a game you played every day, not once a week.
On January 8, 1956, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People awarded the Spingarn Medal to Dodger second baseman Jackie Robinson. The medal recognized Robinson’s strong support of civil rights initiatives. The previous year, it had been awarded to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Some time ago, I posted a video of Buddy Johnson’s “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” Here is another version of that song from 1949, performed by Count Basie and his orchestra.