Jack Roosevelt Robinson (January 31, 1919 – October 24, 1972) became the first African American Major League Baseball player of the modern era in 1947. Robinson's achievement has been recognized by the retirement by each Major League team of his uniform number, 42.
Before the Major League
Template:MLB HoF Born in Cairo, Georgia, Robinson moved with his mother and siblings to Pasadena, California in 1920, after his father deserted the family. At the University of California, Los Angeles, he was a star player of football, basketball, track, and baseball. He played with Kenny Washington, who would become one of the first black players in the National Football League since the early 1930s. Robinson also met his future wife Rachel at UCLA. His brother Matthew "Mack" Robinson (1912-2000) competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics, finishing second in the 200-meter sprint behind Jesse Owens.
After leaving UCLA his senior year, Robinson enlisted in the US Army during World War II. He trained with the segregated U.S. 761st Tank Battalion. Initially refused entry to Officer Candidate School, he fought for it and eventually was accepted, graduating as a second lieutenant. While training at Fort Hood, Texas, Robinson refused to go to the back of a bus. He was court-martialed for insubordination, and therefore never shipped out to Europe with his unit. He received an honorable discharge in 1944, after being acquitted of all charges at the court-martial.
|June 4, 1972|
|Position||2B (748 games)|
3B (356 games)
1B (197 games)
OF (162 games)
SS (1 game)
|Debut||April 15, 1947|
|Final Game||September 30, 1956|
|Total Games||1,382 batting|
|NL Pennants||1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956|
|World Series Teams||1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956|
|All-Star Teams||1949 (2B),|
|Awards||Rookie of the Year (1947)|
|National League MVP (1949)|
|NL batting leader|
(.342 - 1949)
|Baseball Hall of Fame (1962)|
Branch Rickey was the club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and had the secret goal of signing the Negro Leagues' top players to the team. Although there was no official ban on blacks in organized baseball, previous attempts at signing black ballplayers had been thwarted by league officials and rival clubs in the past, and so Rickey operated undercover. His scouts were told that they were seeking players for a new all-black league Rickey was forming; not even the scouts knew his true objective.
Robinson drew national attention when Rickey selected him from a list of promising candidates and signed him. In 1946, Robinson was assigned to play for the Dodgers' minor league affiliate in Montreal, the Montreal Royals. Although that season was very tiring emotionally for Robinson, it was also a spectacular success in a city that treated him with all the wild fan support that made the Canadian city a welcome refuge from the hateful harassment he experienced elsewhere.
Robinson was a slightly curious candidate to be the first black Major Leaguer in sixty years (see Moses Fleetwood Walker). Not only was he 27 (relatively old for a prospect), he also had a fiery temperament. While some felt his more laid-back future teammate Roy Campanella might have been a better candidate to face the expected abuse, Rickey chose Robinson knowing that Jackie's outspoken nature would, in the long run, be more beneficial for their cause than Campanella's relative docility. However, to ease the transition, Rickey asked Robinson to work hard to restrain his temper and his outspokenness for first two years, and to moderate his natural reaction to the abuse. Aware of what was at stake, Robinson acquiesced.
Robinson's debut at first base with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947 (he batted 0 for 3) was one of the most eagerly-awaited events in baseball history, and one of the most profound in the history of the U.S. civil rights movement. Although he played his entire rookie year at first base, Robinson spent most of his career as a second baseman. He also played many games at third base and in the outfield.
During that first season, the abuse to which Robinson was subjected made him come close to losing his patience more than once. Many Dodgers were initially resistant to his presence. A group of Dodger players, mostly Southerners led by Dixie Walker, suggested they would rather strike than play alongside Robinson, but the mutiny was ended when Dodger management informed the players they were welcome to find employment elsewhere. He did have the support of Kentucky-born shortstop Pee Wee Reese, who proved to be his closest comrade on the team. The pair became a very effective defensive combination as a result. Pittsburgh Pirate Hank Greenberg, the first major Jewish baseball star who experienced anti-semitic abuse, also gave Robinson encouragement.
Throughout the season, Robinson experienced considerable harassment from both players and fans. The Philadelphia Phillies - encouraged by manager Ben Chapman- were particularly abusive. In their April 22 game against the Dodgers, they barracked him continually, calling him a "nigger" from the bench, telling him to "go back to the jungle." Rickey would later recall that "Chapman did more than anybody to unite the Dodgers. When he poured out that string of unconscionable abuse, he solidified and united 30 men." Baseball Commissioner A. B. "Happy" Chandler I admonished the Phillies but asked Robinson to pose for photographs with Chapman as a conciliatory gesture. Robinson didn't refuse, but the ensuing session was likely difficult for both participants.
Robinson was awarded the Rookie of the Year award in 1947, and the Most Valuable Player award for the National League in 1949. He not only contributed to Brooklyn pennants in both years, but his determination and hustle kept the Dodgers in pennant races in 1950 and 1951 when they might otherwise have been eliminated much sooner. In 1955, though clearly on the downside of his career, Robinson would play a prominent role in leading the Brooklyn Dodgers to their first and only World Series championship in Brooklyn, in a seven game victory over the New York Yankees.
Robinson's Major League career was fairly short. He did not enter the majors until he was 28, and was often injured as he aged. But in his prime, he was respected by every opposing team in the league.
After the 1956 season, Robinson was sold by the Dodgers to the New York Giants (soon to become the San Francisco Giants.) Rather than report to the Giants, however, Robinson chose to retire at age 37. This sale further added to Robinson's growing disillusionment with the Dodgers, and in particular Walter O'Malley (who had forced Rickey out as General Manager) and manager Walter Alston.
Robinson was an exceptionally talented and disciplined hitter, with a career average of .311 and substantially more walks than strikeouts. He played several defensive positions extremely well and was the most aggressive and successful baserunner of his era; he was among the few players to "steal home" frequently, doing so at least 19 documented times. By his talent and physical presence, he disrupted the concentration of pitchers, catchers and middle infielders. Robinson's overall talent was such that he is often cited as among the best players of his era. It is also frequently claimed that Robinson was one of the most intelligent baseball players ever, a claim that is well supported by his home plate discipline and defensive prowess. Robinson was regarded as a fierce competitor in the truest sense: he never gave up on a game if his team was losing, to the point that he would try everything to avoid being the last man out for his side. In one of his most famous quotes, he said "I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me... all I ask is that you respect me as a human being."
Robinson retired from the game on January 5, 1957. He had wanted to manage or coach in the major leagues, but received no offers. He became a vice-president for the Chock Full O' Nuts corporation instead, and served on the board of the NAACP till 1967, when he resigned because of the movement's lack of younger voices. In 1960, he involved himself in the presidential election, campaigning first for Hubert Humphrey, and then meeting both Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy: citing his record on Civil Rights, Robinson supported Nixon. After Nixon was elected in 1968, Robinson wrote that he regretted the endorsement. He campaigned diligently for Humphrey in 1968.
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility, becoming the first African-American so honored. On June 4, 1972 the Dodgers retired his uniform number 42 alongside Roy Campanella (39) and Sandy Koufax (32).
Robinson made his final public appearance on October 14, 1972 before Game 2 of the World Series in Cincinnati. He used this chance to express his wish for a black manager to be hired by a major league baseball team. This wish was granted two years later, following the 1974 season, when the Cleveland Indians gave their managerial post to Frank Robinson, a Hall-of-Fame-bound slugger who was then still an active player, and no relation to Jackie Robinson. At the press conference announcing his hiring, Frank expressed his wish that Jackie had lived to see the moment. In 1981, four years after being fired as Indians manager, Frank Robinson was hired as the first black manager of a National League team, the San Francisco Giants. As of the conclusion of the 2005 season, five teams had black or Hispanic managers, including Frank Robinson, now with the Washington Nationals, and 13 of the 30 teams had hired one at some point in their history.
Robinson's final few years were marked by tragedy. In 1971, his elder son, Jackie, Jr., was killed in an automobile accident. Also, the diabetes that plagued him in middle age had left him virtually blind and contributed to his severe heart troubles. Jackie Robinson died in Stamford, Connecticut on October 24, 1972 and was interred in the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. For details, see Jules Tygiel's book, Baseball's Great Experiment.
In 1997 (the 50th anniversary of his major league debut), his number (42) was retired from all MLB teams. In 2004, Major League Baseball designated that April 15 each year would be marked as "Jackie Robinson Day" in all their ballparks.
On October 29, 2003, the United States Congress posthumously awarded Robinson the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award the Congress can bestow. Robinson's widow accepted the award in a ceremony in the Capital Rotunda on March 2, 2005.
- Jackie's page at the National Baseball Hall of Fame
- Jackie's Communiqués with the White House @ The National Archives
- Robinson @ the Library of Congress
- Jackie's page as one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century
- Jackie's page @ Baseball Library.com
- Jackie's page @ Baseball Reference.com
- Jackie's page @ Baseball Almanac.com