Jackie Robinson (1919-1972)
Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play major league baseball in the twentieth century when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. He went on to become the first black player to be named Rookie of the Year, to win the Most Valuable Player award, and to be inducted into major league baseball's Hall of Fame.
College and Early Professional Career
In 1939 Robinson entered the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where he became the first student ever to earn letters in four different sports. He was a star running back on the football team, dubbed the "greatest ball carrier" in the game by Sporting News. As a
In New York the Brooklyn Dodgers' general manager, Branch Rickey, quietly sought to integrate major league baseball in the 1940s. He started scouting black players under the pretense of assembling a Negro League
In the summer of 1945 Rickey discovered Robinson playing shortstop for the Negro League's Kansas City Monarchs. Believing Robinson would find a warmer reception in Canada, Rickey assigned him to play for Montreal during the 1946 season as a warm-up for his rookie season in the majors the following year. Rickey's hunch was correct. Robinson, the first black player in the International League in fifty-seven years, was exceedingly popular with the fans as he led the league in batting and runs scored, and his team won the pennant.
Major League Career
In 1947 Rickey invited Robinson to take the historic step of playing for his Brooklyn Dodgers in the major leagues. Rickey asked Robinson to remain passive in the face of the discrimination and cruelty he was sure to encounter.
Robinson excelled on the field during his first season, despite the difficult environment. He was selected as the league's most outstanding rookie, though he was playing first base instead of his usual position at second base. Robinson led the National League in steals, with twenty-nine. At the end of his first season, a national poll found him to be the second most popular celebrity in the United States, behind the singer Bing Crosby. He was named the National League's "Rookie of the Year," honored with a "Jackie Robinson Day" for Dodger fans, and featured on the cover of Time magazine.
In 1949 Robinson returned to Georgia when the Dodgers played a series of exhibition games in Macon
Robinson was named the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1949, winning the batting title that season with a .342 average. He stole home base nineteen times in his career, and in 1954, when he was thirty-five years old, he became the first National Leaguer in nearly twenty-six years to steal his way around the bases. A strong-fielding second baseman, he and Dodger shortstop Pee Wee Reese formed one of the game's greatest double-play combinations. In 1956 he was traded to the New York Giants, but he retired from baseball instead of accepting the trade. Robinson was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1962.
Life after Baseball
Already involved in civil rights activity before his retirement,
Robinson died of a heart attack on October 24, 1972, at the age of fifty-three. After his death he was the subject of the Broadway musical The First. In 1987 major league baseball named its Rookie of the Year award after him. On April 15, 2004, the first annual "Jackie Robinson Day" featured tributes before all games, including that of the Atlanta Braves, who played the New York Mets in Shea Stadium. In March 2005 U.S. president George W. Bush awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to Robinson. His widow, Rachel, accepted the medal, the highest honor the U.S. Congress can award a civilian, during a ceremony held in Washington, D.C.
Jonathan Eig, Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007).
Arnold Rampersad, Jackie Robinson: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 1997).
Scott Simon, Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley and Sons, 2002).
Kyle York, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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