Jackie Robinson: An American Trailblazer
On Tuesday, April 15, 1947, one of the immortal titans of American athletics made history when he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. In that matchup against the Boston Braves, twenty-eight-year-old Jackie Robinson started at first base for the Dodgers, becoming the first African-American to play in the major leagues since Moses Fleetwood Walker and his younger brother, Weldy Wilberforce Walker nearly 63 years earlier. After those two men, Major League Baseball was segregated for more than 50 years until Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Overcoming tremendous racial discrimination over the course of his professional career, Robinson persevered with grace as a man and left no questions about his talent by excelling on the field as a player. “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me,” said Robinson, “all I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”
The first athlete to letter in four varsity sports at the University of California at Los Angeles and a U.S. Army veteran, Robinson went on to win National League Rookie of the year at the end of his first season with the Dodgers. He became a star infielder and outfielder, earning the NL’s Most Valuable player of the Year award in 1949. Brooklyn won six National League pennants with Robinson. He also helped lead the Dodgers to victory over the rival New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series. For his ten seasons of stellar play, which included a lifetime batting average of .311, Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility. “He could beat you in more ways than any player that I ever saw,” wrote the late sportswriter Dave Anderson.
Jackie Robinson in his U.S. Army uniform. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Revered as a pioneer for the integration of professional athletics in America, Robinson continued to fight for equality after his playing days by engaging in civil rights activism. In 1984, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor for an American civilian.
On April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of the day he broke the color barrier in baseball, MLB retired Robinson’s No. 42 in perpetuity. It was the first time that a number was unanimously retired by every team in the league. On April 15, 2009, players on every MLB team wore No. 42 in honor of Robinson, a tradition that continues to this day. The Civil Rights game was also established in 2015 to commemorate Jackie Robinson Day.
Jackie Robinson with the Dodgers in 1954. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Robinson once declared, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” During his time on this earth, Jackie Robinson truly embodied those words and left behind an enduring legacy as an American icon by changing the lives of many people for the better.
Encyclopædia Britannica: Jackie Robinson.
ESPN: When Jackie Robinson Changed Baseball and a Country.
History.com: Jackie Robinson Breaks Color Barrier.
History.com: Jackie Robinson.
Los Angeles Times: First Black Player in Major Leagues? Hint: It Wasn't Jackie Robinson.