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Jackie Robinson is most widely known as the baseball player for the Brooklyn Dodgers who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947. He was not the first black professional baseball player but he was the first in the MLB league.
Robinson played for six World Series teams and earned six consecutive All-Star Game nominations during his career. In 1947 he was named The Sporting New Rookie of the Year Award winner and the first Rookie of the Year Award winner. He went on to win the National League MVP Award only two years later and was the first black player to do so. In 1962 Jackie Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Robinson was active outside of baseball as well. He was a strong supporter of the Civil Rights movement that took place in the 60's. He was part of the group that helped establish the first African-American owned entity based in Harlem, the Freedom National Bank. He also wrote a column in a syndicated New York paper that supported Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. He campaigned for the politicians Hubert Humphrey (D) and Richard Nixon (R). For his efforts he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 1950, Robinson played himself in the biographical film The Jackie Robinson Story.
On April 15, 1997, Robinson's jersey number 42 was retired across all MLB teams in recognition of the 50th anniversary of his debut and his numerous accomplishments.
Jack Robinson was born in 1919. He was the youngest of five children.
His middle name, Roosevelt, was given to him in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt who had died only 25 days prior to Robinson's birth.
His father was a sharecropper in Cairo, Georgia. When his father left the family in 1920 they moved out to Pasadena, California.
Without the father, they lived in virtual poverty. Jackie was starting down a road to gang life before his friend Carl Anderson persuaded him to abandon it.
After attending Dakota Junior High School, Jackie enrolled in John Muir High School in 1935. Inspired by his older brother, Matthew Robinson, Jackie further pursued his love of sports. He played shortstop and catcher on the baseball team, quarterback on the football team and guard on the basketball team. He also won awards for his broad jump on the track team. He ended up lettering in four sports: baseball, track, football, and basketball.
Jackie even joined the tennis team. In fact, at the 1936 annual Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament he managed to walk away with the win. He also Played on the Pomona baseball tournament all-star team which included future Baseball Hall of Fame stars Ted Williams and Bob Lemon. He even made headlines in the Pasadena Star-News newspaper for his outstanding play on the high school basketball team.
After leaving John Muir High School, Jackie enrolled at Pasadena Junior College. He continued his sports career there: he played quarterback and safety on the football team, shortstop and lead-off batter for the baseball team and continued his broad jump for the track team. While attending PJC he was elected to the "Lancers", a student police organization that watched out for improper activities at school activities. However, on January 25, 1938, he was arrested for questionable reasons and sentenced to two years probation. That same year, he was elected to the All-Southland Junior College Baseball Team and selected as the region's MVP. The next year, on February 4, he played his last basketball game at Pasadena Junior College, his former school. Afterward, he was awarded a gold pin and named to the school's "Order of the Mast and Dagger" (Omicron Mu Delta).
After junior college, Robinson transferred to the University of California in 1940. There he became the school's first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports. Again, baseball, basketball, football and track. He was one of only four African-American players on the 1939 UCLA Bruins football team. Three of them made up the majority of the backfield players in a time when only a few dozen black athletes played in college football.
In 1940, they played USC to a 0-0 tie with a Rose Bowl appearance on the line. The game was important because it was the first in the history of the rivalry with national implications. USC would go on to win the national championship.
Despite nearly completing the requirements for his degree, Robinson withdrew from college due to financial reasons in 1941.
Robinson began to work as an athletic director for the National Youth Administration. He started with a semi-professional, racially integrated team in Honolulu called the Honolulu Bears. The season was short and he returned to the mainland in December, only a short time after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Robinson's Service in the Military
As the US was drawn into World War II, Jackie Robinson was drafted. He was assigned to Fort Riley, Kansas where, unlike white recruits, he was not allowed to enter officers training school. During training camp, Robinson met heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis and asked him for help. After Louis spoke with a friend in Washington, the army opened up officer training school for several black men, including Robinson. The move may have been coincidental or a direct result of Louis's actions.
Robinson received a re-assignment to Fort Hood, Texas shortly after being commissioned as a second lieutenant. When he arrived he joined the 761st "Black Panthers" Tank Battalion. Robinson had a very Rosa Parks-like experience while at the army hospital. He boarded a bus with a fellow officer's wife. The army had commissioned an unsegregated bus line, but the driver ordered Robinson to move to the back of the bus, away from his white companion. When Robinson refused, the driver backed down. However, upon reaching their destination, the driver called the MP's who then took Robinson into custody. Robinson again became confrontational at his mistreatment. The white officers who were sent to investigate him recommended that he be court-martialed. Robinson's commanding officer, Paul L. Bates, refused to authorize the court-martial against Robinson and instead had him transferred to the 758th Battalion. Upon his transfer, Robinson's new commanding officer quickly charged him with insubordination, disturbing the peace, drunkenness, conduct unbecoming an officer, insulting a civilian woman, and refusing to obey the lawful orders of a superior officer. Robinson was court-martialed.
By the time his trial had commenced in August of 1944, the only charge that remained was insubordination during questioning. The bus incident was not even mentioned. Robinson was acquitted by an all-white panel of nine officers and again, he was transferred. This time he went to Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky, where he worked as a coach for the army athletics until he was honorably discharged in November 1944. Robinson's original unit, the 761st "Black Panthers" Tank Battalion, went on to become the first black unit to see combat in World War II. Robinson never saw combat action.
Robinson's Career in Baseball
When Jackie Robinson made his Major League debut, he officially broke the color barrier in baseball. His appearance ended 60 years of segregation. His career was short-lived in comparison to most players due to the fact that he began at the age of 28. He only played 10 seasons, all of them for the Brooklyn Dodgers. During his career, he played in six World Series and six All-Star games. He scored more than 100 home runs in six seasons and maintained a career .311 batting average and .409 career on-base percentage with a great deal more walks (740) than strikeouts (291). Robinson led the league in fielding in 1948, '50 and '51. He stole home 19 times, the most since World War I, and became one of only twelve players to steal home in the World Series. He started his career at first base, but after his rookie season he moved to second, where he spent the rest of his career.
Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the mid 1940's, began to scout Robinson. Jackie had been playing for the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs in 1945 after his discharge. He played shortstop and had a stellar batting average of .387. Rickey selected Robinson to play for the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers Triple-A farm club, before bringing him to the Dodgers.
Rickey was searching for a man who could withstand the racial outburst that was certain to follow the move. He constantly reminded Robinson that he would face a tremendous challenge and a barrage of racial hatred. He insisted that Robinson remain calm and never react. Robins was quoted as responding, "Do you want a player afraid to fight back?" Rickey calmly replied, "I want a player with the guts not to fight back." Robinson reluctantly agreed to the terms for his first year.
Robinson came to Daytona Beach, Florida for spring training in 1946. He was banned from playing in Jacksonville and Sanford, but Daytona remained open to him. His first game with an integrated team took place on March 17, 1946. His first plate appearance came in an exhibition game against the Royals' parent club, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson officially became the first black player to play in a Major League game since the league was segregated in 1889. It was also the first time an African-American had played in Class AA baseball without being passed off as Cuban, Mexican or Indian. He led the International League with a .349 batting average and .985 fielding percentage. Montreal canceled their Southern exhibition tour, but during the first regular season game, Robinson had four hits including a home run. During away tours, he had to endure the onslaught of racial hatred and violent fans, but when returning to Montreal the fans welcomed him as their local hero. Six days before the start of the regular season, the Dodgers called Robinson. On April 15, 1947, he made his MLB debut in front of 26,623 fans, 14,000 of whom were African-American. Although Robinson's role was limited, the Dodgers won 5-3. The good news continued for Robinson when he married former UCLA classmate Rachel Isum that winter.
Initially, the nation was divided on whether or not Robinson should be allowed to play. The vast majority of the population, black and white, applauded the decision as long overdue. However, a large number of whites objected. Many player in the league also objected. Most newspapers supported Robinson's right to play in the league. While the integration of a black man into the league was a major issue with segregationists, his extremely high level of play was a major blow against segregation. Regardless of color, there was no argument that Jackie Robinson could play baseball. Whilst showcasing his abilities in baseball, Robinson stepped outside the game to attack color barriers all over the nation. He was a severe critic of hotels that didn't allow him to room with his teammates and many of the hotels that accommodated the Dodgers became integrated as a direct result.
The racism against Robinson was indeed prolific. Fan and players, even some on his own team, threatened Robinson. Many times pitchers threw balls at his head, players tried to tackle him or knock him off base paths. Some players on his own team said they would sit out before they played alongside Robinson. However, Dodger management took a stand on Robinson's side and the mutiny ended. On one notable occasion, the Cardinals threatened to strike if Robinson was allowed to play. National League President Ford Frick made it known that that should they strike, they would be suspended indefinitely from the league.
On April 22, 1947, the Dodgers were set to play the Philadelphia Phillies. When Jackie went onto the field he was assaulted with racial slurs and insults from the Phillies players and manager Ben Chapman. Dodger manager Branch Rickey later recalled, "Chapman did more than anybody to unite the Dodgers. When he poured out that string of unconscionable abuse, he solidified and united thirty men."
A statue in front of KeySpan Park commemorates a piece of baseball history. During a 1947 (possibly 1948) game in the racially divided Cincinnati, Robinson was again the victim of racial slurs when he came onto the field. In response, Pee Wee Reese, shortstop for the Dodgers, placed his arm around the shoulder of Jackie Robinson and waved to the belligerent crowd. He defended his friend with the famous line, "You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them."
Another player who experienced discrimination in baseball was the Jewish star Hank Greenberg. Greenberg and Robinson once met on the field. Greenberg was playing the field for the Pirates while Robinson was on first base. He approached Robinson and, according to Jackie Robinson, said, "He (Greenberg) suddenly turned to me and said, 'A lot of people are pulling for you to make good. Don't ever forget it.' I never did."
Greenberg implied that the only way to combat the racial slurs was to play the game better than anyone else. That year, Robinson played in 151 games, hit .297 and led the National League in stolen bases. He capped the season by winning the first-ever Rookie of the Year Award. In a later interview, when asked if he thought the color barrier would fall in his lifetime, Robinson replied negatively. "I thought it would take another war," he said.
The next year, Jackie Robinson moved to his long term position at second base. While there, he led the league in fielding and maintained a batting average of .296 with 22 stolen bases. He also hit a home run, triple, double and single in a 12-7 win against the St. Louis Cardinals on August 29th. The Dodgers moved into first place in the National League in late August, but ultimately finished third as the Braves went on to win the title, but eventually lose to the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.
The pressure had begun to lessen on Robinson in 1948 as a number of other black players joined the majors. The Cleveland Indians had signed Larry Doby and Satchel Paige and the Dodgers themselves had signed three other black players. In February, Robinson signed a $12,500 contract with the Dodgers. It was less money than he made in the off season while doing a Vaudeville tour during which he answered preset baseball questions and a speaking tour of the South. Due to his off season activities and an ankle surgery, Robinson reported to training camp 30 pounds overweight. He lost the weight during training, but his severe dieting left him weakened on the field.
The 1949 season was a breakout year for Jackie Robinson. He won the MVP award for the National League and lead the league with a remarkable .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases. His 37 steals were the most in National League history in two decades. Robinson had become so popular that a song 'Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?' had reached number one on the Billboard R&B chart. That year, the Dodgers won the National League pennant, but lost to the Yankees 4-1 in the World Series.
Robinson attributed his striking jump in batting average to his spring training with George Sisler. He spent hours at the tee learning to hit the ball to right field. Sisler helped Robinson prepare for fastballs rather than curve balls on the assumption that it was easier to adjust to a slower pitch. Robinson recalled, "Sisler showed me how to stop lunging, how to check my swing until the last fraction of a second." In addition to his batting average increase, he was second in the league in doubles and triples.
In 1950, Robinson took home the highest salary in Dodgers history: $35,000. His promised silence with manager Rickey had also elapsed. In July of 1949 he had begun testifying on discrimination before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Because of his new found public success, he decided the time was right for a biography of his life. The film was initially turned down because studios refused to show a white man teaching a black man how to be a great player. When it was finally produced, Robinson played himself in the lead role and Ruby Dee played his wife. The New York Times wrote, "Robinson is doing that rare thing of playing himself in the picture's leading role, displays a calm assurance and composure that might be envied by many a Hollywood star."
Robinson continued his on-field prowess. He again lead the National League in most double plays by a second baseman with 133 in 1950 and 137 in 1951. He had his single best day at the plate on June 17, 1954 when he hit two home runs and two doubles.
Robinson single-handedly kept the 1951 Dodgers in the running for the pennant. During the final game against the Phillies he saved the season with a defensive play in the 12th inning. He then went on to hit the game-winning home run in the 14th inning. This forced a three-game playoff against the Giants. Despite Robinson's efforts, the Dodgers again lost the pennant. This time it was to Bobby Thomson's famous home run in the last at bat of Game 3. Showing what a competitor he was, Robinson stood with hands on hips and watched Thomson's feet to see if he failed to touch a base.
Racial animosity was far from over and by 1952 Robinson was accusing the Yankees of prejudice and challenge the general manager, George Weiss, to prove him wrong. In 1955, Robinson played the worst year of his career. Regardless, the Dodgers went on to win the World Series and Robinson got his only championship ring. The team they beat was the New York Yankees.
By the 1955 championship game, Robinson was 37 years old. He had missed 49 games and did not play in Game 7 of the World Series. After the 1956 season, he was traded to the New York Giants, arch rival of the Dodgers. The price paid for Robinson by the Giants was $35,000 cash. However, Robinson had already agreed with the president of the company Chock Full o'Nuts to quit baseball and become a top executive with the company. The move led to a disagreement between Dodger manager Rickey and team owner Walter O'Malley, which caused Robinson to announce his retirement through Look Magazine instead of going through the Dodgers.
During the 1956 season he became the first player to steal his way around the bases in 26 years. He remained an outstanding defensive player until the end of his career.
Jackie Robinson officially retired from baseball on January 5, 1957. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame shortly thereafter in 1962, his first year of eligibility. He was the first African-American to be inducted. In 1965, Robinson became an analyst for ABC's Major League Baseball Game of the Week telecasts. On June 4, 1972 the Dodgers retired his uniform number 42 along with Roy Campanella and Sandy Koufax. Robinson did indeed become the vice-president of Chock Full o'Nuts corporation and served on the board of the NAACP until 1967 when he resigned. In 1964 he became one of six directors for Nelson Rockefeller's Republican presidential campaign and later served as a special assistant for community affairs when Rockefeller was re-elected governor of New York in 1966. In 1970, Robinson created the Jackie Robinson Company, which built housing for low income families.
On October 14, 1972, just before Game 2 of the World Series, Jackie Robinson made his final public appearance. He used the opportunity to express his wish for a black manager on a Major League Baseball team.
Robinson would not live to see his wish granted. In 1974, the Cleveland Indians gave their manager position to Frank Robinson (no relation to Jackie), a Hall of Fame-bound slugger who was still an active player at the time.
Unfortunately, he would live to see his oldest son Jackie Jr., who had fought drug addictions, killed in a car accident in 1971.
Robinson's body had begun to fail him early. By middle age he had suffered from heart disease and been weakened by diabetes. By the time of his death he was nearly blind. On October 24, 1972, in Stamford Connecticut, Jackie Robinson's heart finally gave out. He was only 53 years old.
Jackie Robinson was survived by three children, Jack Jr., David and Sharon who produced 16 grandchildren. As of 2014, the family includes two great-grandchildren. Jackie Robinson is buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
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