When Jackie Robinson was recruited by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, National history was made. Until this point, American sports were largely segregated for a great variety of reasons; while there were no legal laws against such a thing, to sign colored players to the roster of major league baseball teams with an expectation of any measurable success was unthinkable! Despite all of this, however, Brooklyn Dodgers’ general manager Branch Rickey assigned Robinson to first base, and during his debut on Ebbett’s Field in April of 1947, Robinson contributed to the Dodgers’ 5-3 victory, effectively getting his foot in the door, not just for himself, but thousands of other major league colored players in the decades to come.
Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919. The youngest of 5 siblings, Robinson was raised primarily by his mother, as his father left the family when he was 1-year-old. Following the departure of his father, Robinson’s family moved to Pasadena, California, where they encountered, but endured, racial prejudice. Robinson’s involvement in sports began during his high school years, in which he successfully played a role in baseball, football, basketball, and track at John Muir High School. Robinson continued to follow his passion for sports at Pasadena Junior College. Despite a generally amiable, lively nature, however, Robinson held a short temper towards racial intolerance and antagonism. This temper would become a significant obstacle for him in the years to come.
Robinson’s professional baseball career began in early 1945 when the Kansas City Monarchs issued him a written offer to play in the Negro leagues. Accepting the offer, Robinson began his career in professional baseball. While he was paid $400 a month, Robinson was simultaneously disgusted by the disorganization of the Negro teams in comparison to the structured college environment to which he was accustomed. Robinson played a total of 47 games with the Monarchs as shortstop.
Robinson’s greatest achievements were still to come. His time with the Brooklyn Dodgers came in 1947 when Branch Rickey signed him to the team. Rickey warned Robinson, however, that he could, under no circumstances, give in to his contempt towards any oppression he may encounter. Over the course of the next season, Robinson was faced with a mixed reaction; negros and many white spectators offered him a positive reaction, but the opposition Robinson encountered, both on the field as well as off, came very close to breaking him. Despite all of this, however, Jackie Robinson did as he had always been taught – he endured.
Today, Jackie Robinson has become a legend. His name is on the lips of all who speak of racial desegregation in the world of American sports. His player number, 42, is so significant that it remains the only number retired by all major league teams in the history of baseball. Most importantly, his legacy has touched the hearts and minds of millions of people in the past near-70 years. In short, Jackie Robinson’s journey fundamentally impacted baseball as the world knows it. Today, the only time you’ll catch the number 42 on the field of major league baseball is April 15th, known nationally as Jackie Robinson day, when all managers and players wear Robinson’s number in honor of the great sports legend.
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