Sparky’s Quill: Black History Month Highlight, Jackie Robinson

Did you see Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball? Well chances are you have not. Jackie Robinson hit baseballs between 1947 and 1956. He’s acclaimed as the first black player in the history of Major League Baseball.

Robinson slides into home plate. He was known for his aggressive base-running. Photo courtesy Google Images

Robinson slides into home plate. He was known for his aggressive base-running. Photo courtesy Google Images

However, this is a common misconception. Moses Walker is actually the first black to do so, playing for the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884.  He only played 42 games in his career. Coincidentally, this was also Jackie Robinson’s number.

Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 (happy late birthday, Jackie!) in Georgia, but his family moved to Pasadena, CA shortly after he was born. He graduated Pasadena Junior College before transferring to UCLA where he showed off his talent in four sports. That’s right, FOUR varsity letters. He played baseball, basketball, football, and track. Now that’s an athlete!

Robinson had a military career during World War II but never fought overseas with his unit because of a court-martial.  He was court-martialed because he refused to sit in the back of the bus when the bus driver ordered him to do so. This little incident is one of the many times Jackie Robinson would show his courage and stand up against racism. He had as much emotional strength as he did physical strength.

After his discharge, Jackie Robinson played for an African-American baseball league and was eventually selected to join the minor leagues. Robinson was called up to the majors and made his first appearance on April 15, 1947 for the Brooklyn Dodgers which is now celebrated as Jackie Robinson Day. This day broke the color barrier in the MLB and put Jackie Robinson’s name in the history books. The 1947 season gave Jackie Robinson the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award (only one for the whole organization was given at the time) for his outstanding performance. Jackie would go on to win MVP, the National League Batting Title, National League Stolen Bases Champion, and a World Series ring throughout his successful career.

Jackie Robinson Day 2007 being celebrated at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy Google Images

Jackie Robinson Day 2007 being celebrated at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy Google Images

Every MLB team retired Jackie Robinson’s number 42 in 1997. Retiring a jersey means no one else can wear that number. However on April 15 of every year, any player can wear the number 42 to commemorate Jackie Robinson. 2009 was the first year that all uniformed personnel including players, managers, and umpires wore 42.

Robinson passed away in 1972 of a heart attack, but his legacy lives on. He stood up for his rights and became a leader and hero in the United States. His efforts off the field showed how an athlete could use their fame and recognition to influence society in positive ways. His talent allowed him to prevail on baseball’s biggest stage while simultaneously prevailing in the civil rights movement. Jackie Robinson will forever be remembered.

 

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