When Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier on April 15, 1947, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the world changed forever.
Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia, USA. His mom, Mallie raised him and his four siblings alone and they were the only black family in their neighborhood, causing them to face plenty of hatred. As a kid, he learned and excelled in many different sports. He attended UCLA and there, he was the first athlete to win a varsity letter in four different sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track. After being named to the All-American football team in 1941, Robinson left UCLA and joined the US Army due to financial struggles. He was promoted to second lieutenant during his time in the military but was honorably discharged after race-related issues. He refused to give up his seat and move to the back of the bus.
In the years after leaving the army, not only did Robinson get married and welcome his first child, but he signed a contract to play in the Negro baseball league. During his time in Kansas City, he was seen by the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Hickey and he offered him the chance to be a part of the Dodgers system. He spent time with their top farm team, the Montreal Royals in the International League. He led the league that season with 40 stolen bases and a .349 average. It earned him his big break. In 1947, Robinson played his first season in the MLB, becoming the first black player in the league since the start of the twentieth century. In his first season, Robinson was awarded “Rookie of the Year.” The St. Louis Cardinals attempted to strike during Robinson’s first season as an act against him. The idea was shut down by the league.
Since he didn’t join the league until he was twenty-eight years old, Robinson only played ten seasons in the MLB. In his third season in the league, he was named NL MVP. He was a part of six pennant wins in ten seasons. He played second base for only half of his career yet it was his best position. Robinson was a versatile player. Along with second base, he was able to play first, third and left field. He was involved in the Dodgers first ever World Series win in 1955.
Robinson’s play was declining and there was a rift in his relationship with head office towards the end of his career. He was continuing to speak out about racial issues. When he refused to retire, the Dodgers traded Robinson to the New York Giants. His retirement was decided on before the trade but due to contractual obligations with a magazine set to announce it, he couldn’t say anything. His retirement was officially announced by Look magazine on January 22, 1957.
Following the end of his baseball career, Robinson did many things, among them, hosting his own radio show and starring in The Jackie Robinson Story, a movie about his life. Another film adaptation called 42 was released in 2013. In 1962, Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was determined after his retirement that Robinson had played his career while suffering from diabetes.
Jackie suffered a fatal heart attack in 1972 in his Connecticut home. He passed away at age 53, four months after the Dodgers retired his number 42. His story took to Broadway and the Rookie of the Year award was renamed in honor of Robinson. On April 15, 1997, the entire MLB honored Robinson 50 years after his debut by retiring his number league wide.
To this day, teams take the time to acknowledge Robinson each and every year. Every sports fan knows that his impact goes far beyond baseball. He helped give black athletes everywhere a chance to play whatever sport they love. Robinson will never be forgotten and every time his number 42 is seen, we will remember the man who wore it for all those years.