Today, back in 1947, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson made his MLB debut, going 0-3 while playing in unfamiliar territory at first base. That aside, its a red-letter day in the history of integration as Robinson becomes the first African-American to play in a big league game (in the ‘modern era’).
African-Americans were regulated to the Negro Leagues since the late 1800’s and there was likely no better human than Robinson to break the color barrier. He was a major influence on the civil rights movement in the mid 20th century and was an advocate of non-violence.
The baseball world was blessed when Robinson was born on January 31st, 1919 in the southern border town of Cairo, Georgia. He grew up in poverty and struggled to fit in to the affluent neighborhood his mother and siblings relocated to Pasadena, CA after his father left the family in 1920.
Robinson persevered, and after attended a junior college, enrolled in UCLA and became the first athlete in the school’s history to attain varsity letters in FOUR different sports; baseball, football, track, and basketball. In an odd case of irony, baseball was considered his worst sport; he hit sub-.100 in his first and only season playing.
After college, Robinson was drafted into the Army in 1942 and became commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1943; an honor not easily attained despite the Army’s OCS guidelines that were supposedly race-neutral.
Fast-forward to 1945, Robinson was recruited to play for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. When Branch Rickey began scouting the Negro Leagues, he formally was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey wanted to ensure that Robinson wouldn’t be goaded into engaging with racial trolls; something that would follow Robinson through most of his career.
Robinson had a celebrated career with the Dodgers and won a pennant with the team in 1955, defeating the New York Yankees. This also happened to be the worst season of Robinson’s career. The following season would be his last; Robinson was traded to the New York Giants but ultimately left baseball behind and became an executive with Chock full o’Nuts.
Two years prior, Robinson had given publishing rights to Look magazine when the time came for him to leave the game. Instead of making a formal announcement to the organization, the team and baseball fans found out from an article the magazine had published.
Robinson’s legacy reached well-beyond the baseball world, influencing minorities for generations and the eventual respect of those initially opposed to what Robinson stood and fought for.
If you’re interested in more Robinson info, there are a myriad of videos on YouTube as well as The Jackie Robinson story (where Robinson played himself), The First (played by David Alan Grier), The Soul of the Game (Blair Underwood, and most recently the fine film 42 (Chadwick Boseman).
The book “The Untold Story of Smoketown: The Other Great Renaissance”, details the city of Pittsburgh’s ties to Robinson and boxer Joe Lewis.
Feel free to share your thoughts on Robinson in the comments section below!