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MLB prepares to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day

Maya Hughes | 4/9/2017, 10:42 p.m.
The youngest of five children, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was an excellent athlete who played four sports as a youth football, ...
Jackie Robinson

The youngest of five children, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was an excellent athlete who played four sports as a youth football, basketball, track and baseball. But it was his dedication to baseball that would eventually change the sport forever.

Robinson burst onto the scene in 1947, breaking baseball’s color barrier and bringing the Negro League’s electrifying style of play to the Majors. He quickly became baseball’s top drawing card and a symbol of hope to millions of Americans.

On April 15, every team in the majors celebrates Jackie Robinson Day in honor of when he broke the color barrier in baseball, becoming the first African-American player in the 20th century to take the field in the big leagues. He opened the door for many others and will forever be appreciated for his contribution to the game.

Robinson stood up for equal rights even before he did so in baseball. He was arrested and court-martialed during training in the Army for refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus. He was eventually acquitted of the charges and received an honorable discharge.

The second baseman started his career with the Kansas City Monarchs as part of the Negro League. He later joined the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers top farm team, in 1946 and led the International League with a .349 average and 40 stolen bases. He would earn a promotion to the Dodgers under the insistence of the then president of the Brooklyn Dodgers Branch Rickey. He made his major league debut on April 15, 1947 –becoming the first Black player to compete in a major league.

From the beginning of his career with the Dodgers, Robinson dealt with racism. Even some of his new teammates objected to having an African American on their team. People in the crowds sometimes jeered at Robinson, and he and his family received daily threats. The harassment continued, most notably by the Philadelphia Phillies and their manager, Ben Chapman. During one infamous game, Chapman and his team shouted racial slurs at Robinson from their dugout. During the trip, a local hotel also refused service to Robinson.

At the end of his first season, Robinson was named the Rookie of the Year. He was named the NL MVP just two years later in 1949, when he led the league in hitting with a .342 average and steals with 37, while also notching a career-high 124 RBI. The Dodgers won six pennants in Robinson’s 10 seasons. He retired in 1957, with a career batting average of .311.

In 1972, the Dodgers retired his uniform number 42. In 1997, Major League Baseball “universally” retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams; he was the first pro athlete in any sport to be honored with this feat. Initiated for the first time on April 15, 2004, Major League Baseball has adopted a new annual tradition, “Jackie Robinson Day,” on which every player on every team wears #42.