Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson (January 31, 1919 – October 24, 1972) was a baseball player for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He became the first African-American major league baseball player of the modern era in 1947. While not the first African American professional baseball player in United States history, his Major League debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers ended approximately eighty years of baseball segregation, also known as the baseball color line, or color barrier. In the United States at this time, many white people believed that blacks and whites should be segregated or kept apart in many phases of life, including sports and daily life.

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Robinson in 1962 and he was a member of six World Series teams. He earned six consecutive All-Star Game nominations and won several awards during his career. In 1947, Robinson won The Sporting News Rookie of the Year Award and the first Rookie of the Year Award. Two years later, he was awarded the National League MVP Award. Robinson was the first black player to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award. In addition to his accomplishments on the field, Jackie Robinson was also a forerunner of the Civil Rights Movement. In the 1960s, he was a key figure in the establishment and growth of the Freedom National Bank, an African-American owned and controlled entity based in Harlem, New York. He also wrote a syndicated newspaper column for a number of years, in which he was an outspoken supporter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Robinson engaged in political campaigning for a number of politicians, including the Democrat Hubert Humphrey and the Republican Richard Nixon. In recognition of his accomplishments, Robinson was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On April 15, 1997, the 50 year anniversary of his debut, Major League Baseball retired the jersey number 42, the number he wore, across all MLB teams in recognition of his accomplishments both on and off the field in a ceremony at Shea Stadium. In 1950, he was the subject of a film biography, The Jackie Robinson Story, in which he played himself. He became a political activist in his post-playing days. In 1946, Robinson married Rachel Annetta Isum. In 1973, after Jackie died, Rachel founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

Early life

Jackie Robinson, the youngest of five children, was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919 during a Spanish flu and smallpox epidemic. His middle name was in honor of former President Theodore Roosevelt who had died 25 days before Jackie was born. In 1920, his family who were sharecroppers moved to Pasadena, California after his father left them. Robinson grew up in relative poverty raised by a single mother and joined a local neighborhood gang in his youth. Eventually, his friend Carl Anderson persuaded Robinson to abandon the gang.

In 1935, Robinson graduated from Dakota Junior High School and enrolled in John Muir High School ("Muir Tech"). There he played on various Muir Tech sport teams, and lettered in four of them: football, basketball, track, and baseball. Robinson's older brother, Matthew Robinson, inspired Jackie to pursue his talent and love for athletics. He was a shortstop and catcher on the baseball team, a quarterback on the football team, a guard on the basketball team, and a member of the tennis team and the track and field squad. He won awards in the broad jump.

In 1936, he captured the junior boys singles championship in the annual Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament, starred as quarterback, and earned a place on the annual Pomona baseball tournament all-star team, which included future Baseball Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bob Lemon. The next year, Jackie played for the high school's basketball team. That year, the Pasadena Star-News newspaper reported on the young Robinson.

After leaving Muir, Jackie attended Pasadena Junior College, where he continued to excel in sports. He played basketball, football, and baseball. He played quarterback and safety for the football team, shortstop and leadoff batter for the baseball team, and participated in the broad jump. While at PJC, he was elected to the "Lancers,” a student run police organization responsible for patrolling various school activities. He dated and made friends. However, on January 25, 1938, he was arrested for questionable reasons and sentenced to two years probation. In 1938, he was elected to the All-Southland Junior College (baseball) Team and selected as the region's Most Valuable Player. On February 4, 1939, he played his last basketball game at Pasadena Junior College. Thereupon Robinson was awarded a gold pin and was named to the school's "Order of the Mast and Dagger" (Omicron Mu Delta).”

After leaving PJC in 1940, Robinson transferred to the nearby University of California, Los Angeles, where became the school's first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football and track. He was one of four African American players on the 1939 UCLA Bruins football team, the others being Woody Strode, Kenny Washington and Ray Bartlett. Washington, Strode, and Robinson starred on the 1939 UCLA Bruins football team, in which they made up three of the four backfield players. This was a rarity to have so many African Americans when only a few dozen at all played on college football teams. They played eventual conference and national champion USC to a 0-0 tie with the 1940 Rose Bowl on the line. It was the first game in the history of the rivalry with national implications. Despite many athletic achievements and having nearly completed the requirements for his degree, he withdrew from the university for financial reasons in 1941.

Robinson then briefly worked as an athletic director for the National Youth Administration before going to Honolulu that fall to play football for the semi-professional, racially integrated Honolulu Bears. The season was brief, and he returned that December, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that drew the United States into World War II. He was drafted the following year.

Military career

Drafted into the United States Army and assigned to Fort Riley, Kansas, Robinson lobbied successfully to be sent to officers' training school. He was commissioned a second lieutenant, and re-assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, where he joined the 761st "Black Panthers" Tank Battalion. While undergoing hospital tests on an injured ankle, Robinson boarded an Army bus with a fellow officer's wife; although the Army had commissioned its own unsegregated bus line, the bus's driver (who apparently believed that Robinson's companion was white) ordered Robinson to move to the back of the bus, away from his companion. Robinson refused. The driver backed down, but when he reached the end of the line he summoned MPs, who took Robinson into custody. When Robinson confronted the white officers who arrived on the scene to "investigate" his behavior (and the stenographer summoned to take his statement), the officers recommended that he be court-martialled. After Robinson's commander in the 761st, Paul L. Bates, refused to authorize the legal action, Robinson was summarily transferred to the 758th Battalion, where the commander quickly consented to charge Robinson with insubordination, disturbing the peace, drunkenness, conduct unbecoming an officer, insulting a civilian woman, and refusing to obey the lawful orders of a superior officer.

By the time of the court-martial, in August 1944, the charges had been reduced to include only Robinson's alleged insubordination while being questioned; the actual incident on the bus which had inaugurated the episode was not mentioned in the charges or at the trial. Robinson was acquitted by an all-white panel of nine officers. He was transferred again, to Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky, where he served as a coach for army athletics until he received an honorable discharge in November 1944. Although his former unit, the 761st Tank Battalion, eventually become the first black tank unit to see combat, Robinson never saw combat action during World War II.

Baseball carreer

In 1946, Jackie Robinson came to Daytona Beach, FL for spring training with the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers Triple-A farm club. He was banned from playing in Jacksonville and Sanford, but not in Daytona. He played his first integrated game for a team in Organized Ball on March 17, 1946. His first plate appearance came in an exhibition game against the Royals' parent club, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson thus became the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues since the baseball color line was implemented in 1889.


In the late 1940s, Branch Rickey was club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers began to scout Robinson who had joined the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs in 1945 after his discharge from the Army. He played shortstop and had a batting average of .387. Rickey eventually selected him from a list of promising African-American players. Robinson became the first player in fifty-seven years to break the Baseball color line, a segregation practice dating to the nineteenth century.

Rickey wanted a man who could restrain himself from responding to the ugliness of the racial hatred that was certain to come. He reminded Robinson that he would face tremendous racial animus, and insisted that he not take the bait and react angrily. Robinson was aghast: "Do you want a player afraid to fight back?" Rickey replied that he needed a Negro player "with the guts not to fight back." Robinson agreed to abide by Rickey's terms for his first year.

In 1946, the Dodgers assigned Jackie Robinson to the Montreal Royals. Jackie proceeded to lead the International League in batting average with a .349 average, and fielding percentage with a 0.985 percentage. That winter he also married Rachel Isum, his former UCLA classmate. It was the first time an African-American had played Class AA baseball without being passed off as a Cuban, a Mexican, or an Indian. Montreal was forced to cancel a Southern exhibition tour, but in the first regular season game Robinson had four hits including a home run. Robinson played well for Montreal, and six days before the start of the season the Dodgers called him up. On April 15, 1947 he made his debut before a crowd of 26,623 spectator, 14,000 of whom were black. Although he didn't get a base hit, the Dodgers won 5-3.

The nation was initially divided on whether Robinson should be allowed to play. Virtually all blacks and many whites felt applauded the decision as long overdue, but a large number of whites also objected. Many major league players also objected. Most newspapers, but not all, supported the move. Robinson's integration and subsequent high level of play was a major blow to segregation and caused racial barriers to fall in other areas. Robinson critized hotels that didn't allow him to stay with his teammates, and a number of hotels and restaruants that the Dodgers frequented integrated as a result.

During his first season with the Dodgers Robinson encountered racism for fans and players, some even from his own teammates. He anticipated that some pitchers would aim pitches at his head and that other players would try to hit, tackle, and even try to push him off the basepaths. Some Dodger players insinuated they would sit out rather than play alongside Robinson. The brewing mutiny ended when Dodger management took a stand for Robinson. Manager Leo Durocher informed the team, "I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin' 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. When other teams, notably the Cardinals, threatened to strike if Robinson played, NL President Ford Frick let it be known that they would be suspended.

On April 22, 1947, during a game between the Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies, Phillies players called Jackie a "nigger" from their dugout, and yelled that he should "go back to the cotton fields. Rickey would later recall that the Phillies' manager, Ben Chapman, "did more than anybody to unite the Dodgers. When he poured out that string of unconscionable abuse, he solidified and united thirty men. Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler admonished the Phillies and asked Chapman to pose for photographs with Robinson as a conciliatory gesture.

In front of KeySpan Park there is a statue of Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese with his arm around Robinson. It commemorates a piece of baseball folklore: that in 1947 Reese put his arm around Robinson in response to fans shouting racial slurs at Robinson before a game in Cincinatti. This story stood for decadas as a symbol of racial tolerance, but later became a source of controversy. While Reese putting his arm around Robinson is not in dispute, the event likely took place in 1948. Reese also once came to his friend's defense with the famous line "You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them."

In addition, the Jewish baseball star Hank Greenberg, who understood the rookie's difficulties considering he himself faced considerable anti-Semitism earlier in his career, made a point of welcoming Robinson to the major leagues. In the October 1948 issue of SPORT magazine, Robinson said he did not expect to see baseball's color barrier fall in his lifetime. "I thought it would take another war," he said.

That year, he played in 151 games, hit .297, led the National League in stolen bases and won the first-ever Rookie of the Year Award. Although Jackie played every game that season at first base, Robinson spent most of his career as a second baseman.

Two years later, Robinson won the 1949 Most Valuable Player award for the National League, leading the league with a .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases. By this point, he had galvanized fan support to the point that a popular song, Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?, reached the national Billboard R&B chart. By 1950, he had septupled his salary, being paid the highest amount to that point in Dodgers history: $35,000. His promised silence had also elapsed, and by July 1949, Robinson was testifying on discrimination before the House Unamerican Activities Committee. In 1950, he appeared in a film biography, The Jackie Robinson Story, in which he played himself. Actress Ruby Dee played Rachael "Rae" (Isum) Robinson. In 1952, he blasted the Yankees as a racist organization for not having broken the color line five years after his own crosstown debut.

Robinson single handedly kept the Dodgers in the race for the 1951 pennant. During the final game of the regular season against Philadelphia he made a season-saving defensive play in the 12th inning and then hit a game-winning home run in the 14th inning. This forced a three-game playoff against the Giants. Despite his regular season heroics, the Dodgers lost the pennant on Bobby Thomson's famous home run in the last at bat of Game 3 on Oct. 3, 1951. Robinson stood with hands on hips and watched Thomson's feet in case he failed to touch all of the bases. Vincent Scully felt that showed "how much of a competitor Robinson was".

Robinson would win his only championship ring when the Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series. 1955 was the worst year of his carreer. Robinson hit .256 and stole only 12 bases in 1955. He was 37 years old, missed 49 games and didn't play in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series. After the 1956 season, Robinson was traded by the Dodgers to the archrival New York Giants for Dick Littlefield and $35,000 cash. Although this is frequently cited as the reason for Robinson's retirement, the situation was more complicated. Before the trade he had already agreed with the president of Chock full o'Nuts to quit baseball and become a top executive with the company. This, combined with a falling out between his friend Rickey and team owner Walter O'Malley led to Robinson announcing his retirement through Look magazine instead of through the dodgers.

Robinson was a disciplined hitter and a versatile fielder. He had a .311 career batting average, a .409 career on base percentage and substantially more walks than strikeouts. He was a truly outstanding baserunner. No other player since World War I has stolen home more than Robinson, who did it 19 times in his career. Recent statistical analysis has also indicated that Robinson was an outstanding defensive player throughout his career. During his career, the Dodgers played in six World Series and Jackie played in six All-Star games. He is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and a member of the All-Century Team.

Assessing himself, Robinson said "I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me... all I ask is that you respect me as a human being."

Career batting statistics

1947 Brooklyn 151 590 125 175 31 5 12 48 29 74 36 0.297 0.383 0.427 252 28 9 5
1948 Brooklyn 147 574 108 170 38 8 12 85 22 57 37 0.296 0.367 0.453 260 8 7 7
1949 Brooklyn 156 593 122 203 38 12 16 124 37 86 27 0.342 0.432 0.528 313 17 8 22
1950 Brooklyn 144 518 99 170 39 4 14 81 12 80 24 0.328 0.423 0.500 259 10 5 11
1951 Brooklyn 153 548 106 185 33 7 19 88 25 8 79 27 0.338 0.429 0.527 289 6 9 10
1952 Brooklyn 149 510 104 157 17 3 19 75 24 7 106 40 0.308 0.440 0.465 237 6 14 16
1953 Brooklyn 136 484 109 159 34 7 12 95 17 4 74 30 0.329 0.425 0.502 243 9 7 12
1954 Brooklyn 124 386 62 120 22 4 15 59 7 3 63 20 0.311 0.413 0.505 195 5 4 7 13
1955 Brooklyn 105 317 51 81 6 2 8 36 12 3 61 18 0.256 0.378 0.363 115 6 3 5 3 8
1956 Brooklyn 117 357 61 98 15 2 10 43 12 5 60 32 0.275 0.382 0.412 147 9 2 2 3 9
Totals 10 yrs 1382 4877 947 1518 273 54 137 734 197 30 740 291 0.311 0.409 0.474 2310 104 9 7 72 113

Post-baseball life

Robinson retired on January 5, 1957. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility, becoming the first African-American so honored. In 1965, Robinson served as an analyst for ABC's Game of the Week telecasts. On June 4, 1972, the Dodgers retired his uniform number 42 alongside Roy Campanella (39) and Sandy Koufax (32). He became a vice-president for the Chock Full O' Nuts corporation, and served on the board of the NAACP until 1967, when he resigned. In 1964 he became one of six national directors for Nelson Rockefeller's Republican presidential campaign and later became special assistant for community affairs when Rockefeller was re-elected governor of New York in 1966. In 1970, he established the Jackie Robinson Construction Company to build housing for families with low incomes.

Robinson made his final public appearance on October 14, 1972, before Game 2 of the World Series. He used this chance to express his wish for a black manager to be hired by a Major League Baseball team. This wish was granted two years later, following the 1974 season, when the Cleveland Indians gave their managerial post to Frank Robinson, a Hall of Fame bound slugger who was then still an active player, and no relation to Jackie Robinson. At the press conference announcing his hiring, Frank expressed his wish that Jackie had lived to see the moment. In 1971, his oldest son, Jackie, Jr., who had beaten back drug problems and was working as a Daytop Village counselor, was killed in an automobile accident.

Robinson's body, which had served him well as an athlete, failed early. Heart disease complications and Diabetes weakened him and made him almost blind by middle age. On October 24, 1972, he died of a heart attack at age 53 in Stamford, Connecticut.

Awards and recognition

Jackie Robinson contributions have been recognized in a number of ways. He has ranked highly in a number of polls and lists, received several awards, and has had buidlings and events named in his honor. According to a poll conducted by Jimmie Fidler in 1947, Robinson was the second most popular man in the country, behind Bing Crosby. In 1999, he was named by Time Magazine on its list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. Also in 1999, he ranked number 44 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team as the top vote getter for second basemen. Baseball writer Bill James in the "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract" ranked Robinson as the 32nd greatest player of all time based strictly on his performance on the field, noting that he was one of the top players in the league throughout his career.

Major League Baseball has honored Robinson several times since his death. In 1987, the Rookie of the Year Award was renamed the Jackie Robinson Award in honor of its first winner. On April 15, 1997, Jackie Robinson's #42 was retired by Major League Baseball, meaning that no future player on any major league team could wear it. It was retired in ceremonies at Shea Stadium to mark the 50th anniversary of Robinson's first game with the Dodgers . A handful of player who were wearing #42 as a salute to Robinson, such as the Mets' Butch Huskey and Boston's Mo Vaughn, were allowed to continue to use the number.

Robinson has also been recognized outside of baseball. In December 1956, the NAACP recognized Robinson with the Spingarn Medal, which it awards annually for the highest achievement by an African American. In March 1984, President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded Robinson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Jackie Robinson is only the second baseball player to get the Congressional Gold Medal. The other was Roberto Clemente. 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 Capitol Rotunda on March 2, 2005. On August 20, 2007, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver announced that Jackie Robinson would be inducted into the California Hall of Fame on December 5, 2007 located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts in Sacramento.

Robinson has had a numbre of buildings named in his honor. The homes of the Daytona Cubs is the Jackie Robinson Ballpark, and the UCLA Bruins Baseball team plays in the Jackie Robinson Stadium. The Chicago Public School system has named an elementary school after Jackie Robinson, and Dorsey High School, in Los Angeles named their football stadium after him.

At the November 2006 groundbreaking for a new New York Mets ballpark, Citi Field, scheduled to open in 2009, it was announced that the main entrance, modeled on the one in Brooklyn's old Ebbets Field, will be called the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Additionally, Mets owner Fred Wilpon said that the Mets and Citigroup would work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation to create a Jackie Robinson Museum and Learning Center in lower Manhattan, as well as fund scholarships for "young people who live by and embody Jackie's ideals. Also, in 1976, his home in Brooklyn, the Jackie Robinson House, was declared a National Historic Landmark

Jackie Robinson Day

Each year on April 15, Jackie Robinson Day is celebrated, commemorating and honoring the day Robinson made his major league debut. Jackie Robinson Day was initiated in 2004 and has been celebrated every year since.

On April 15, 2007, the 60th anniversary of Robinson's major league debut, Major League Baseball invited players to wear the number 42 just for that day to commemorate Robinson. The gesture was the idea of Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr., who first sought Rachel Robinson's permission, and, after receiving it, asked Commissioner Bud Selig for permission. Selig extended the invitation to all major league teams. Ultimately, more than 200 players wore number 42, including the entire rosters of the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Pittsburgh Pirates. The tribute was continued in 2008, when, during the April 15 games, all members of the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Nationals, and Tampa Bay Rays wore Robinson's # 42.

See also



  • Bigelow, Barbara Carlisle, ed. Contemporary Black Biography vol. 6. Gale Research Inc. 1994. ISBN 0-8103-8558-9
  • Eig, Jonathan. Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007. ISBN 978-07432-9460-7
  • Frommer, Harvey. Jackie Robinson Watts Press, 1984.
  • Journal of Sports History -
  • Kirwin, Bill. Out of the Shadows: African American Baseball from the Cuban Giants to Jackie Robinson. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. ISBN 978-08032-7825-7
  • -
  • Moritz, Charles, ed. Current Biography Yearbook 1972, H.W. Wilson Co, New York, 1972. ISBN 0-8242-0493-X
  • Rampersad, Arnold. Jackie Robinson, a Biography, Alfred A. Knopf (New York), 1997. ISBN 0-679-44495-5
  • Robinson, Jackie. I Never Had It Made. G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1972
  • Robinson, Sharon. Promises To Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America Scholastic, 2004.
  • Rothe, Anna, ed. Current Biography, Who's News and Why 1947, H.W. Wilson Co, New York, 1948.
  • SPORT magazine, October 1948.
  • Thorn, John. "Our Game" pp1-10 In Total Baseball: The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball 7th ed. John Thorn et al eds. Total Sports Publishing, New York, 1992
  • Tygiel, Jules. Baseball's Great Experiment, Oxford (USA), New York, ISBN 0195106199
  • Williams, Michael W.- Ed. An African American Encyclopedia 1993.

External links

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