Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson
Born:August 10, 1917, Cairo, Georgia
Died:October 24, 1972, Stamford, Connecticut
Jackie Robinson (Jack Roosevelt Robinson) is today best known as the man who broke the “color barrier” in modern-era sports, but this Cairo, Georgia native was significantly more than the first black to play major league baseball since 1900. Jackie became a role model for all Americans: he played with courage, he lived with valor, he died with honor.
Born in Cairo, Georgia and raised in Pasadena, California, he attended Pasadena Junior College then continued his education at the University of California at Los Angeles (1939-1941). Jackie Robinson was a sporting legend at the school, becoming the first athlete to letter in baseball, football, basketball and track (long jump). He left UCLA to play football with the Los Angeles Bulldogs while they were in the old Pacific Coast Football League.
Pearl Harbor introduced America to World War II, and the U. S. Army drafted Robinson, sending him to Fort Riley, Kansas for training. He rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant. In 1944 America, both inside and outside of baseball, was still a segregated society. Blacks were required by law to move to the back of the bus before they could sit down. Robinson was brought up on charges of not following the rule but the charges were dismissed. He was discharged honorably at the end of the war.
Joining the Kansas City Monarchs (Negro American League) in 1945 was the start of a fateful journey that would make Jackie Robinson a household name. James Wilkinson, the innovative owner who was the first to install lighting for professional baseball, hired Robinson to play shortstop. Enter Branch Rickey. Often painted as a showman looking to extract as much money from baseball fans as possible, Rickey’s personal papers reveal the truth: a man who believed he had a moral obligation to change society.
Segragation had been the rule of law since 1896 when the Supreme Court institutionalized the concept in ruling known as Plessy v. Ferguson. Prior to Robinson’s debut there had been some movement towards integrating society, but not much.
That August Rickey signed Robinson to a minor league contract, letting him play in Montreal in 1946. Rickey’s choice of the Dodger’s Montreal club was sheer genius, allowing Robinson to acclimate himself in a less hostile environment. Jackie was not only training for the “bigs,” he was training for his role in creating an America that was truly “one nation.” The young black man from Cairo, Georgia held up under the pressure, batting a league-leading .347 that year.
During his first major league game, Robinson reached on an error in the seventh and scored the game-winning run
On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson became famous. He walked on to a field to play baseball in the uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The game of baseball had its first black player since the 1880’s. That is not the end of this story; it is the start of it. Over the next ten years Jackie Robinson played baseball. He played it well. Very well.
That first year, appearing in 151 games, Robinson hit .297 while scoring 125 times and driving in 48 runs. The Sporting News, which had opposed the integration of baseball in April selected him as Rookie of the Year in October. 1949 was a career season when he hit .347 while playing in 156 games, driving in a whopping 124 runs and was selected Most Valuable Player. His lifetime stats are equally impressive.
Life is not a spectator sport.”
Jackie Robinson left baseball in 1956 and pursued a business career, although he kept a constant vigil on the progress of integration in Major League ball. He felt a number of blacks had shown the ability to become manager and he openly lamented the lack of such an opportunity. During the 1960’s he embarked on a crusade, joining fellow Georgian Martin Luther King in the campaign to extend civil rights to all Americans.
In 1962 Robinson was selected by the Baseball Writers to join the elite group of men in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York. Ten years later, on October 24, 1972, he died of a heart attack (common in diabetes patients) in Stamford, Connecticut.