Jack Roosevelt Robinson is better known by his nickname – Jackie Robinson. I have known about this man all my life, but I did not really know about him. I knew that he was a great baseball player who broke the color barrier in modern baseball by being the first African-American to play major league baseball. This is all I knew about Jackie until I watched a new movie about him entitled “42” - an outstanding and highly recommended movie.
The official Jackie Robinson site introduces Jackie as follows: “Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia, [on January 31, 1919] to a family of sharecroppers [the youngest of five children]. His mother, Mallie Robinson, single-handedly raised Jackie and her four other children. They were the only black family on their block, and the prejudice they encountered only strengthened their bond. From this humble beginning would grow the first baseball player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier that segregated the sport for more than 50 years.” After Jackie’s father, Jerry, left the family in 1920, the extended family moved to Pasadena, California.
Robinson attended John Muir High School, Pasadena City College (1937-1939), and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He “excelled early at all sports.” In high school he played on the tennis team and lettered in baseball, basketball, football, and track. He participated in baseball, basketball, football, and track at Pasadena. He became “the first UCLA athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football and track,” and he was named to the All-American football team in 1941. Just short of graduation, he dropped out of college for financial reasons. He eventually enlisted in the U.S. Army and was promoted to second lieutenant two years later. He was court-martialed because he objected to “incidents of racial discrimination” but was eventually given an honorable discharge.
In 1945 Jackie played one season for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Baseball League. Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, approached Jackie in 1947 about joining his team and becoming the first African-American to play Major League Baseball since the game was segregated in 1889. It is no exaggeration to say that Jackie “courageously challenged the deeply rooted custom of racial segregation in both the North and the South.”
In his rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie was named the National League Rookie of the Year. His statistics for that season are: 12 homers, a league-leading 29 steals, and a .297 average. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the Year in 1949 when he also won the batting title with a .342 average. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. He batted right and threw right.
“Robinson broke the baseball color line when the Brooklyn Dodgers started him at first base on April 15, 1947. As the first major league team to play a black man since the 1880’s, the Dodgers ended racial segregation that had relegated black players to the Negro leagues for six decades. The example of Robinson’s character and unquestionable talent challenged the traditional basis of segregation, which then marked many other aspects of American life, and contributed significantly to the Civil Rights Movement.
“In addition to his cultural impact, Robinson had an exceptional baseball career. Over ten seasons, Robinson played in six World Series and contributed to the Dodgers’ 1955 World Championship. He was selected for six consecutive All-Star Games, from 1949 to 1954, was the recipient of the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949 – the first black player so honored. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. 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 so honored. 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.
“Robinson was also known for his pursuits outside the baseball diamond. He was the first black television analyst in MLB, and the first black vice-president of a major American corporation. In the 1960s, he helped establish the Freedom National Bank, an African-American-owned financial institution based in Harlem, New York. In recognition of his achievements on and off the field, Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.”
Jackie’s official site states that he has the legacy of being “one of the most important [people] in American history.” In 1997, fifty years after Jackie broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, he was honored for standing “defiantly against those who would work against racial equality and acknowledged the profound influence of one man’s life on the American culture.” On the anniversary of his historic debut, his great milestone was recognized by all Major League teams across the nation. He was paid tribute by President Bill Clinton on April 15 at a special ceremony at New York’s Shea Stadium. He was also honored that year with a commemorative postage stamp by the United States Post Office. He received many other honors and left a great legacy.
Jackie married Rachel Isum, a nursing student at UCLA, in 1946. Jackie and Rachel became the parents of Jackie Jr., Sharon, and David. Rachel and the children provided Jackie with “the emotional support and sense of purpose essential for bearing the pressure during the
early years of baseball.”
The great Jackie Robinson suffered from complications of heart disease and diabetes and was almost blind by middle age. He died of a heart attack on October 24, 1972, at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, at age 53. His funeral service was held on October 27, 1972, at Riverside Church in New York City. There were 2,500 mourners at his funeral, and many of his former teammates and other famous black baseball players were his pallbearers. The eulogy was given by Rev. Jesse Jackson. There were “tens of thousands of people” lining the procession route to the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, where he is buried. The Jackie Robinson Parkway runs through the cemetery.
The movie entitled “42” was released in North America on April 12, 2013. It is a biographical sports film about the baseball career of Jackie Robinson, who wore jersey number 42. The film tells the story of how Jackie Robinson, with the guidance of Branch Rickey (team president) signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first African-American to play modern Major League Baseball.
The film focuses a little on Jackie’s 1946 season with the Montreal Royals but mostly on the 1947 season with the Brooklyn Dodgers. It depicts many of the horrors of segregation – separate restrooms and fountains, problems with transportation, prejudice (players and entire teams refused to play with Robinson and hotels refused to rent rooms to the team), and public taunts. Team members, one by one, began to support him and then defend him. Robinson was eventually able to win acceptance by his teammates and the general public because of his great baseball skills, his personal character, and his gentlemanly behavior. Jackie looked to his wife and family for his emotional support and endured the ugliness of racism for a higher cause than just his own self. He was a genuine hero, and we can learn much from studying his life.