Monday, September 21, 2009
JACK ROOSEVELT ROBINSON
Jack Roosevelt Robinson (January 31, 1919 – October 24, 1972) became the first African American Major League Baseball player of the modern era in 1947. Robinson’s achievement has been recognized by the retirement by each Major League team of his uniform number, 42.
1 Before the Major League
2 The Dodgers
3 Post Dodgers
Before the Major League
Born in Cairo, Georgia, Robinson moved with his mother and siblings to Pasadena, California in 1920, after his father deserted the family. At the University of California, Los Angeles, he was a football, basketball, track, and baseball star where he played with Kenny Washington, who would become one of the first black players in the National Football League since the early 1930s. His brother Matthew “Mack” Robinson (1912-2000) competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics, finishing second in the 200-meter sprint behind Jesse Owens.
After leaving UCLA without a degree in 1942, Robinson enlisted in the US Army during World War II. He trained with the segregated U.S. 761st Tank Battalion. Initially refused entry to Officer Candidate School, he fought for it and eventually was accepted, graduating as a second lieutenant. While training at Fort Hood, Texas, Robinson refused to go to the back of a bus, knowing that the practice had recently been outlawed on military vehicles. He was court-martialed for insubordination, and never shipped out to Europe with his unit. He received an honorable discharge in 1944, after being exonerated at a trial with all charges dismissed.
Jackie played baseball in 1944 for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro American League where he caught the eye of Clyde Sukeforth, a scout working for Branch Rickey.
Branch Rickey was the club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and had the secret goal of signing the Negro Leagues’ top players to the team. Although there was no official ban on blacks in organized baseball, previous attempts at signing black ballplayers had been thwarted by league officials and rival clubs in the past, and so Rickey operated undercover. His scouts were told that they were seeking players for a new all-black league Rickey was forming; not even the scouts knew his true objective.
Robinson’s debut at first base with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947 (he batted 0 for 3) was one of the most eagerly-awaited events in baseball history, and one of the most profound in the history of the U.S. civil rights movement. Although he played his entire rookie year at first base, Robinson spent most of his career as a second baseman. He also played many games at third base and in the outfield.
During that first season, the abuse to which Robinson was subjected made him come close to losing his patience more than once. During the season, Robinson experienced considerable harassment from both players and fans. The Philadelphia Phillies – encouraged by manager Ben Chapman- were particularly abusive. In their April 22 game against the Dodgers, they barracked him continually, calling him a “nigger” from the bench, telling him to “go back to the jungle.” Rickey would later recall that “Chapman did more than anybody to unite the Dodgers.
When he poured out that string of unconscionable abuse, he solidified and united 30 men.” Baseball Commissioner Albert “Happy” Chandler admonished the Phillies but asked Robinson to pose for photographs with Chapman as a conciliatory gesture. Robinson didn’t refuse, but the ensuing session was likely difficult for both participants.
Robinson was awarded the Rookie of the Year award in 1947, and the Most Valuable Player award for the National League in 1949. He not only contributed to Brooklyn pennants in both years, but his determination and hustle kept the Dodgers in pennant races in 1950 and 1951 when they might otherwise have been eliminated much sooner.
Robinson’s Major League career was fairly short. He did not enter the majors until he was 28, was often injured as he aged, and he retired at age 37. But in his prime, he was respected by every opposing team in the league.
Robinson was an exceptionally talented and disciplined hitter, with a career average of .311 and substantially more walks than strikeouts. He played several defensive positions extremely well and was the most aggressive and successful baserunner of his era; he was among the few players to “steal home” frequently
By his talent and physical presence, he disrupted the concentration of pitchers, catchers and middle infielders. Robinson’s overall talent was such that he is often cited as among the best players of his era. It is also frequently claimed that Robinson was one of the most intelligent baseball players ever, a claim that is well supported by his home plate discipline and defensive prowess.
Robinson retired from the game on January 5, 1957. He had wanted to manage or coach in the major leagues, but received no offers. He became a vice-president for the Chock Full O’ Nuts Corporation instead, and served on the board of the NAACP till 1967, when he resigned because of the movement’s lack of younger voices. In 1960, he involved himself in the presidential election, campaigning first for Hubert Humphrey, and then meeting both Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy: citing his record on Civil Rights, Robinson supported Nixon. After Nixon was elected in 1968, Robinson wrote that he regretted the endorsement. He campaigned diligently for Humphrey in 1968.
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility, becoming the first African-American so honored. On June 4, 1972 the Dodgers retired his uniform number 42 alongside Roy Campanella (39) and Sandy Koufax (32).
Robinson made his final public appearance on October 14, 1972 before Game 2 of the World Series in Cincinnati.
Robinson’s final few years were marked by tragedy. In 1971, his elder son, Jackie, Jr., was killed in an automobile accident.
Also, the diabetes that plagued him in middle age had left him virtually blind and contributed to his severe heart troubles. Jackie Robinson died in Stamford, Connecticut on October 24, 1972 and was interred in the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. For details,
In 1997 (the 50th anniversary of his major league debut), his number (42) was retired from all MLB teams. In 2004, Major League Baseball designated that April 15 each year would be marked as “Jackie Robinson Day” in all their ballparks.
On October 29, 2003, the United States Congress posthumously awarded Robinson the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award the Congress can bestow. Robinson’s widow accepted the award in a ceremony in the Capital Rotunda on March 2, 2005.