When Jackie Robinson ran out onto Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field to play his first game in the major leagues, many Americans were shocked. The grandson of a slave, Jackie was the first African American to play for a major league baseball team in the Twentieth Century.
Last year, Jackie Robinson again captured the imagination and hearts of millions of Americans as the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of his historic first game in the majors. President Clinton honored Jackie during a game in New York, and Major League Baseball retired his number, 42. Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia., on January 31, 1919 to Jerry and Mallie Robinson. He grew up in Pasadena, California. In high school and at Pasadena Junior College he showed great athletic skill in track, basketball, football, and baseball. He left school in 1941 and was drafted the following year for Army service during World War II. After receiving a medical discharge in 1945, Jackie Robinson decided to tryout for the Boston Red Sox, but ended up not making the team. He spent a year playing baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League. Later he played in the 1946 season with the Montreal Royals, a Dodgers farm club, and led the International League in hitting with a .349 average. He stole 40 bases and scored 113 runs.
When the Dodgers opened their 1947 season, Robinson was playing second base. On April 10, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black player to sign a major league contract in the 20th century. During his first game, Jackie went hitless in three at-bats, but flawlessly handled 11 chances at first base. In 1947, Jackie hit .297 and stole 29 bases while also playing first base for the Dodgers. Jackie led the National League in stolen bases and was named rookie of the year. The main problem he had to overcome was controlling his short temper after hearing so many racial remarks from the crowds and other ball players, including his own teammates.
On July 12, 1949, Jackie Robinson made his All-Star game debut for the National league. This was the first time that a black player participated in an All-Star game. On October 6, 1949, Jackie Robinson scored the only run in the Dodgers 1-0 win over the New York Yankees in game two of the World Series. This was the only game that the Dodgers won in the 1949 World Series. In 1949, with a .342 average, he was named the most valuable player in the league. He was one of the game’s best base runners, with a total of 197 stolen bases.
The Dodgers won six National League pennants during Robinson’s ten playing years. On December 13, 1956, the Brooklyn Dodgers traded Jackie Robinson to the Dodger’s rival team, the New York Giants in hopes that Robinson would be able to boost the low attendance. He was being traded for a pitcher named Dick Littlefield and $35,000 in cash. At this time, Robinson was having problems with his legs and was thinking about quitting baseball. Less than a month later, Jackie retired from baseball in 1956 with a lifetime batting average of .311.
On January 23, 1962, the Baseball Writers Association of America elected Jackie Robinson to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Robinson became the first African-American to be elected. After retirement he became a vice-president of a New York restaurant firm and the president of a land-development company. From 1964 to 1968 he served as special assistant for civil rights to Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York. He also worked with drug-prevention programs. Robinson starred in the motion picture The Jackie Robinson Story which was made in 1950 and was the author, with Alfred Duckett, of I Never Had It Made in 1972.
On October 24, 1972, Jackie Robinson died from a heart attack at the age of 53 in Stamford, Connecticut. Ten days earlier, Robinson had thrown out the first pitch at the beginning of the second game in the 1972 World Series. Jackie Robinson is a legendary figure and his name is now synonymous with the desegregation and redefinition of professional sports. Yet, our collective knowledge of the historical process that created this American icon, has been reduced to an occasional “color commentary.”