Jackie Robinson: How One Man Broke the Color Barrier in Baseball

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Carson Zorn and Reno Misuraca

Jackie Robinson was born to Mallie and Jerry Robinson in Cairo, Georgia on January 31, 1919. His father left the family in 1920, and the family then moved to Pasadena, California. He grew up with an interest in many sports including football and baseball, among others. While attending John Muir High School, his older brothers Mack, who himself was an olympic silver medalist, and Frank convinced Jackie to pursue his interest in sports. He was a very talented athlete in his high school career, as he played at the varsity level for many sports, and lettered in football, basketball, track and baseball. He continued his participation in those sports throughout his collegiate career, and he lettered once again in those four sports at UCLA. 

In 1942, Robinson was drafted to a segregated army unit in Kansas, and after much delay due to racial discrimination, was accepted into the Officer Candidate School (OCS). After completing OCS, Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1943. However, an event on July 6, 1944 would essentially end Robinson’s military career. While awaiting test results on his ankle, Robinson boarded an Army bus. Even though the bus was unsegregated, the driver demanded Robinson moved to the back of the bus. Robinson refused. Following this action, Robinson was court-martialed. By the time he was acquitted, it was too late for Robinson to take part in any overseas combat. After the end of World War II, he turned his attention back to sports.

His professional baseball career began in 1945, when he received an offer from the Kansas City Monarchs to play professional in the Negro leagues, the contract paid Robinson $400 per month, which roughly adjusts to $5,751.36 per month in today’s economy. Robinson played extremely well for the Monarchs, but was dissatisfied with the experience. He disliked the disorganization of the leagues, and their embrace of gambling. In his career with the Monarchs, he played 47 games at shortstop, hitting a .387, five home runs and recording 13 stolen bases. After his career with the Monarchs ended, Robinson turned his eyes towards the Major league. He participated in tryouts, and even had a stint in the minor league, which would eventually lead to his career in the major league.

In 1947, Jackie Robinson was called up to play for an MLB team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. In doing so, Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. In his first career game, Robinson scored a run in front of a crowd of 26,623 fans, 14,000 of which were African American. His introduction to the league was met with mixed reactions from newspapers, fans and other players in the league. While there were some positive reactions, many, including some players on the Dodgers, did not want Robinson to continue playing in the league. Some of his teammates on the Dodgers implied that they would not play if Robinson played. This all ended when Dodgers Manager Leo Durocher took a stand for Robinson. In a statement he said this to the team: “I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a [censored] zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded.”

Robinson received hate from many teams around the league, and was the target of rough physical play, resulting in injuries. But, he also received support from famous players around the league such as Lee Handley. His own teammates eventually grew to support him, one of which was Pee Wee Reese, who uttered the famous line “You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them.” At the end of his first season with the Dodgers, Robinson finished with 151 games played, a .297 batting average, a .383 on base percentage and a .427 slugging percentage. He recorded 175 hits, 125 runs (31 doubles, 5 triples and 12 home runs), and led the league in sacrifice hits (28) and stolen bases (29). His performance earned him the Rookie of the Year Award.  Later in his career he won a Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, and a World Series in 1956. He retired from MLB in 1957 at the age of 37.

Following his career, Robinson was an outspoken supporter of the Civil Rights movement, and stressed the importance of change for racial equality in the United States. He became a sports analyst for NBC for a period of time, and was the first African American to do so. Robinson was inducted into the Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. Jackie was and continues to be an amazing symbol for people of all colors, but especially for African Americans. His importance in the African American community and his effect on Civil Rights cannot be understated, and he should continue to be idolized and remembered to this day.