“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” Jackie Robinson once said.
The impact Robinson made on Major League Baseball is one that will be forever remembered. On April 15 each season, 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 American or National league. He opened the door for many others and will forever be honored 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 while he was serving 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. He then started his professional baseball career.
Originally a shortstop, Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues until Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey tabbed him as the player who would integrate the white major leagues. Rickey wanted Robinson not only for his talent and style of play, but also because of his demeanor. He knew Robinson would have to endure mental and physical abuse, and Rickey wanted him to handle it without fighting back. Robinson endured teammates and crowds who opposed his presence, and threats to himself and his family, with honor and grace.
Robinson 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 earned a promotion to the Dodgers and made his National League debut on April 15, 1947, as Brooklyn's first baseman.
“It was the most eagerly anticipated debut in the annals of the National Pastime,” authors Robert Lipsyte and Pete Levine wrote. “It represented both the dream and the fear of equal opportunity, and it would change forever the complexion of the game and the attitudes of Americans.”
At the end of his first season, Robinson was named the winner of the inaugural Baseball Writers' Association of America's Rookie of the Year Award. 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 and captured the 1955 World Series title.
Robinson retired with a .313 batting average, 972 runs scored, 1,563 hits and 200 stolen bases. He remained active in the game as an announcer, and also lent his support to many societal causes.
“Jackie Robinson made my success possible,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Without him, I would never have been able to do what I did.”
Robinson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962. He passed away on Oct. 24, 1972.