Are you a fan of baseball? If so, you know that the major leagues are filled with talented players from all walks of life. Each and every team is made up of a mixture of people of different races and nationalities. Sadly, though, that was not always the case.
Years ago, teams were made up entirely of Caucasian players. It was not until 1947 that an African-American man would break the color barrier in baseball and change history forever. That man was Jackie Robinson.
Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia, on January 31, 1919. The youngest of five children, Jackie was raised by a single mother. Although the family did not have much money, Jackie was able to attend Pasadena Junior College, where he excelled in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track.
Jackie was such a good athlete that he was able to move on to the University of California, Los Angeles. At UCLA, he became the first athlete ever to earn a varsity letter in four sports. Unfortunately, financial hardship forced him to leave UCLA before graduating.
Jackie moved to Hawaii to play semi-professional football. His season was cut short, though, when the United States entered World War II. From 1942 to 1944, Jackie served in the U.S. Army. An incident at Fort Hood, Texas, in 1944 would foretell the important role in history Jackie would eventually play.
At Fort Hood, a bus driver demanded that Jackie give up his seat and move to the back of a segregated bus. Jackie refused and was arrested. With the help of friends and his good reputation, Jackie was acquitted of the charges when the public learned of the injustice.
Jackie’s courage to stand up for his belief in equality was an important first step in what would be a long, groundbreaking journey in support of civil rights. After his honorable discharge from the Army in 1944, Jackie started to play professional baseball.
At the time, professional baseball was segregated, which meant that white and black players played in separate leagues. So, Jackie began his career in the Negro Leagues. He excelled as always and was soon chosen by Branch Rickey to join the all-white Montreal Royals, which was a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Jackie’s talent would not be denied and, on April 15, 1947, he played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. When he stepped onto the field that day, he became the first African-American player to play in the major leagues.
Although many people were ready for integration in major league sports, many were not. Jackie suffered many hard times as he was confronted by racism from spectators, other teams, and even some of his own teammates. He persevered through it all, though, and became an inspiration to millions of people.
In addition to being an inspiration to the civil rights movement, Jackie was a great baseball player. He won Rookie of the Year in his first season and Most Valuable Player in 1949. Over the course of his decade with the Dodgers, he maintained a .311 batting average and led the Dodgers to victory in the 1955 World Series.
Jackie’s success in the major leagues paved the way for other African-American athletes. After retiring from baseball, Jackie continued to work tirelessly for civil rights and other important social causes.
In 1962, Jackie became the first African-American inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1972, the Dodgers retired his uniform number: 42. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired his uniform number — 42 — across all major league teams, which is something that had never happened on behalf of any professional athlete in any sport. Today, Jackie is still honored every April 15, when every player on every team wears #42 on “Jackie Robinson Day.”