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Jackie Robinson American Hero
Posted By Christopher Rowe On Apr 16 2011 @ 5:53 pm In MLB | No Comments
April 15, 1947 is now a date that will live in infamy. Not for the efforts of one man on any given day or of scores of men today but of the significance of the trials and lessons learned during the interim and their inexorable effect upon human history.
 This is not just about baseball, rather it is the way that a baseball player managed to change the world. Every schoolchild hears the story of Jackie Robinson, American hero, revolutionary icon, immutable figure of 20th century and social pariah-turned-savior. The story is rife with layers and repercussions and socioeconomic advances, all of which are amazing when hearing the story for the first time or the hundredth. America changed as the world climate was evolving while history chose a baseball field in Flatbush, Brooklyn as the stage. Many influences were involved, some famous and others forgotten. None of this would have been possible without a brave but seemingly unremarkable man who simply had the courage to step onto a baseball field and change history.
 Telling the whole Jackie Robinson story is too large a task for this venue. Since 1997, thanks to the efforts of Major League Baseball and the blessings of Robinson’s widow (Rachel Robinson), the anniversary of Jackie’s landmark debut would become a celebration. Fifty years after Jackie Robinson quietly took the field with his Brooklyn Dodgers teammates, players from 50 countries throughout the world would stand on baseball fields and salute a pioneer. Mrs. Robinson and the Commissioner participated in a ceremony in New York commemorating the event. Major League Baseball retired  his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams – an unprecedented display of respect and admiration.
 Today, all 30 franchises display Robinson’s retired number year round but on April 15, players are permitted to further honor him by wearing his number. This began when Ken Griffey, Jr. requested permission to honor Robinson in this way and has expanded across the game. Replica Robinson Brooklyn Dodger jerseys are sold at all 30 venues and all players sport the number 42 in honor of the legend.
Six days before the start of the 1947 season, the Dodgers called Robinson up to the major leagues. With Eddie Stanky  entrenched at second base for the Dodgers, Robinson played his initial major league season as a first baseman . On April 15, 1947, Robinson made his major league debut at Ebbets Field  before a crowd of 26,623 spectators, including more than 14,000 black patrons. Although he failed to get a base hit, the Dodgers won 5–3. Robinson became the first player since 1880 to openly break the major league baseball color line. 
Black fans began flocking to see the Dodgers when they came to town. When Larry Doby debuted with Cleveland the following year and subsequent Negro League players (such as Satchel Paige and Roy Campenella) joined the Majors, black fans began abandoning their Negro league teams. Sadly, reaction from fans, opposing players, managers and society was not as harmonious as Robinson’s major league debut. He was subject to persecution in all forms both on and off the field – even struggling to gain the respect and acceptance of his own teammates – notably shortstop and team captain Harold Henry “Pee Wee” Reese. Reese, a Kentucky native, was famous for refusing to sign a petition threatening a player boycott and for an incident in Cincinnati, Ohio. During pre-game infield practice, Reese went over to Robinson, engaged him in conversation, and put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder in a gesture of support which silenced the Crosley Field crowd. This gesture is depicted in a bronze sculpture of Reese and Robinson, created by sculptor William Behrends, that was placed at KeySpan Park  in Brooklyn and unveiled Nov. 1, 2005 .
Throughout that difficult first year in the major leagues, Reese helped keep Robinson’s morale up amid the abuse. As the 1947 season wore on, there was tacit acceptance of the fact that blacks were now playing big league ball and were probably there to stay. Robinson still got pitches thrown at him, but, as Reese recounted “I told him, ‘You know Jack, some of these guys are throwing at you because you’re black. But others are doing it just because they plain don’t like you.’” His role in nurturing Jackie Robinson aside, their rapport soon led shortstop Reese and second baseman Robinson to become one of the most effective defensive pairs in the sport’s history.
 In addition to his cultural impact, Jackie Robinson had an exceptional baseball career. Over ten seasons, he played in six World Series  and contributed to the Dodgers’ 1955 World Championship . He was selected for six consecutive All-Star Games  from 1949 to 1954, was the recipient of the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year Award  in 1947 (at age 28) and won the National League  MVP Award  in 1949 – the first black player so honored. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame  in 1962 , having retired relatively suddenly in spring 1957. The Dodgers were planning to trade Robinson to the Giants and a year later both teams would relocate to California establishing a new era of transcontinental major league baseball. Robinson would not be part of that, retiring as a Brooklyn Dodger after a decade of groundbreaking and breathtaking efforts that would always be part of baseball lore.
Robinson was also known for his pursuits outside the baseball diamond. He was the first black television analyst in Major League Baseball, and the first black vice-president of a major American corporation. In the 1960s, he helped establish the Freedom National Bank, an African-American-owned financial institution based in Harlem , New York. In recognition of his achievements on and off the field, Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom  and the Congressional Gold Medal .
Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, into a family of sharecroppers  in Cairo, Georgia . Jackie was the youngest of five children and his middle name was in honor of former President Theodore Roosevelt , who died twenty-five days before Robinson was born. Robinson’s father left the family in 1920, they moved to Pasadena, California  where the extended Robinson family established itself on a residential plot at 121 Pepper Street. Robinson’s mother worked various odd jobs to support the family. Growing up in relative poverty in an otherwise affluent community, Robinson and his minority friends were excluded from recreational opportunities. As a result, Robinson joined a neighborhood gang, but soon was persuaded to abandon it.
After high school, college and military service during World War II, Robinson found himself realizing what many Americans of the time saw – their world was evolving and progressing all around them. World War was over, America was becoming a superpower, opportunity was at the hands of nearly anyone who wanted it and the horizon of success seemed boundless. Tired of war, tyranny, destruction and cruelty, America turned its focus toward the homefront, nurturing hopes and dreams into domestic tranquility. A new sense of manifest destiny took hold of America as they built superhighways, schools, cars and suburban sprawl was rampant. The next decade would see the greatest population expansion and migration of Modern Times quadrupling the size of the middle class and changing forever the status quo for the pursuit of happiness.
For most, this was an Age of Opportunity. Socioeconomic schisms still existed despite the aftereffects of the Great Depression and Second World War, which had seen camaraderie at its zenith. Separate but equal had been accepted for a long time but that didn’t make it fair, right or just. Every revolution needs a spark but this one required someone with the moral fortitude, social consciousness and personal temerity to withstand the resistance of an entire society.
Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color line  when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers  in 1947. As the first black man to play in the major leagues since the 1880s, he was instrumental in bringing an end to racial segregation  in professional baseball, which had relegated black players to the Negro leagues  for six decades. That journey began in 1945, ten years after Robinson’s days at Muir Tech (Robinson lettered in varsity football, basketball, track and baseball and also participated on the track and field squad and tennis team). His first taste of competition was in 1936, when Robinson won the junior boys singles Tennis championship in the Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament earning a place on the Pomona  baseball all-star team – which included future Hall of Famers  Ted Williams  and Bob Lemon . In late January 1937, the Pasadena Star-News  reported that Robinson “had been the outstanding athlete at Muir, starring in football, basketball, track, baseball and tennis.” He went on to Pasadena Junior College, where he continued to excel at sports and in the classroom on a larger stage.
In 1938, Robinson was elected to the All-Southland Junior College Baseball Team and selected as the region’s Most Valuable Player. Robinson was one of 10 students named to the school’s Order of the Mast and Dagger (Omicron Mu Delta), for performing “outstanding service to the school with scholastic and citizenship record worthy of recognition.” On January 25, 1938, he was arrested after vocally disputing the detention of a black friend by police. Toward the end of his PJC tenure, Frank Robinson (closest among his brothers) was killed in a motorcycle accident. The event motivated Jackie to pursue his athletic career at the University of California, Los Angeles  (UCLA), to remain closer to Frank’s family.
At UCLA, Robinson became the school’s first athlete to win varsity letters  in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track. He was one of four black players on the 1939 UCLA Bruins football  team (Woody Strode , Kenny Washington  & Ray Bartlett). At a time when only a handful of black players existed in mainstream college football, this made UCLA college football’s most integrated team. Robinson won the 1940 NCAA Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Championship  (long jumping 24’10.5”). Baseball was actually Robinson’s “worst sport” at UCLA; he hit .097 in his only season, although in his first game he went 4-for-4 and twice stole home. While a senior at UCLA, Robinson met his future wife, Rachel Isum , a UCLA freshman familiar with Robinson’s athletic career at PJC. In the spring semester of 1941, Robinson left college just shy of graduation for a job as an assistant athletic director with the government’s National Youth Administration  (NYA) in Atascadero, California .
After the government ceased NYA operations, Robinson traveled to Honolulu  in fall 1941 to play football for the semi-professional, racially integrated Honolulu Bears. After a short season, Robinson returned to California in December 1941 to pursue a career as running back for the Los Angeles Bulldogs  of the Pacific Coast Football League . By that time, however, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor  had taken place, drawing the United States into World War II  and ending Robinson’s nascent football career.
In 1942, Robinson was drafted and assigned to a segregated Army cavalry unit in Fort Riley , Kansas . Robinson and several other black soldiers applied for admission to an Officer Candidate School  (OCS). Although the Army’s initial July 1941 guidelines for OCS had been drafted as race-neutral, few black applicants were admitted into OCS. Robinson and his colleagues were delayed for several months. After protests by heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis  (then stationed at Fort Riley) and the help of Truman Gibson  (then an assistant civilian aide to the Secretary of War), the men were accepted into OCS. Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant  in January 1943. Shortly afterward, Jackie Robinson and Rachel Isum were formally engaged to be married.
Needless to say by 1945, Jackie Robinson was an accomplished scholar, athlete, husband and military officer. Due to an incident, Robinson found himself subject to a court-martial in August 1944. The charges against Robinson had been reduced to two counts of insubordination during questioning. Robinson was acquitted by an all-white panel of nine officers. Although his former unit, the 761st Tank Battalion, was the first black tank unit to see combat in World War II, Robinson’s court-martial proceedings prohibited him from being deployed overseas, thus he never saw combat action.
After his acquittal, he was transferred to Camp Breckinridge, KY , where he served as a coach for army athletics until receiving an honorable discharge  in November 1944. While there, Robinson met an ex-player for the Kansas City Monarchs  of the Negro American League , who encouraged Robinson to write the Monarchs and ask for a tryout. Robinson wrote Monarchs’ co-owner Thomas Baird and would eventually play for the Monarchs, prior to his first meeting with Branch Rickey in 1945.
In early 1945, while at Sam Huston College, the Negro Leagues’ Kansas City Monarchs  sent Robinson a written offer to play professional baseball. Robinson accepted a contract for $400 ($4,882 in 2011 dollars per month, a boon for him at the time. Although he played well, Robinson was frustrated with the experience. He had grown used to a structured collegiate playing environment, so the Negro leagues’ disorganization and embrace of gambling interests appalled him. In all, Robinson played 47 games at shortstop  for the Monarchs, hitting .387 with five home runs, and 13 stolen bases. He also appeared in the 1945 Negro League All-Star Game, going hitless in five at-bats.
During the season, Robinson pursued potential major league interest. The Boston Red Sox  held a tryout at Fenway Park  for Robinson and other black players on April 16. The tryout proved a farce chiefly designed to assuage the desegregationist sensibilities of powerful Boston City Councilman Isadore Muchnick. Players were subjected to racial epithets and left the tryout humiliated. More than 14 years later (July 1959), the Red Sox became the last major league team to integrate its roster. Other teams had more serious interest in signing a black ballplayer.
In the mid-1940s, Branch Rickey , president and GM  of the Brooklyn Dodgers , selected Robinson from a list of promising Negro League players, and interviewed Robinson. Rickey was especially interested in making sure his eventual signee could withstand the inevitable racial abuse. In a famous three-hour exchange on August 28, 1945, Rickey asked Robinson if he could face the racial animus without taking the bait or reacting angrily. Robinson was aghast: “Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Rickey replied that he needed a Negro player “with guts enough not to fight back.” After obtaining a commitment from Robinson to “turn the other cheek” to racial antagonism, Rickey agreed to sign him to a contract for $600 a month ($7,322 today). Although he required Robinson to keep the arrangement a secret for the time being, Rickey committed to formally signing Robinson before November 1, 1945. On October 23, it was publicly announced that Robinson would be assigned to the Royals for the 1946 season. That same day, with representatives of the Royals and Dodgers present, Robinson formally signed his contract with the Royals.
In what was later referred to as “The Noble Experiment“, Robinson became the first black baseball player in the International League since the 1880s. Satchel Paige , Josh Gibson  and other Negro League stars were upset when Robinson was selected first – not because he was the best player but because he was the best choice for what lay ahead. Robinson left the Monarchs to return home to Pasadena. On February 10, 1946, Robinson and Isum were married by their old friend, Rev. Karl Downs.
In 1946, Robinson arrived at Daytona Beach, Florida , for spring training  with the Montreal Royals  of the Class AAA  International League  (the designation of “AAA” for the highest level of minor league baseball  was first used in the 1946  season). Robinson’s presence was controversial in racially charged Florida. As he was not allowed to stay with his teammates at the team hotel, he lodged instead at the home of a local black politician. Since the Dodgers organization did not own a spring training facility (the Dodger-controlled spring training compound in Vero Beach  known as “Dodgertown ” did not open until spring 1948), scheduling was subject to the whim of area localities, several of which turned down any event involving Robinson or Johnny Wright , another black player whom Rickey had signed to the Dodgers’ organization in January. In Sanford, Florida , the police chief threatened to cancel games if Robinson and Wright did not cease training activities there; as a result, Robinson was sent back to Daytona Beach. In Jacksonville , the stadium  was padlocked shut without warning on game day, by order of the city’s Parks and Public Property director. In DeLand , a scheduled day game was called off, ostensibly because of faulty electrical lighting.
After much lobbying of local officials by Rickey himself, Robinson made his Royals debut at Daytona Beach’s City Island Ballpark on March 17, 1946, in an exhibition game against the parent Dodger club. Robinson simultaneously became the first black player to openly play for a minor league team and against a major league team since the de facto baseball color line had been implemented in the 1880s. On April 18, 1946, Roosevelt Stadium hosted the Jersey City Giants ‘ season opener against the Montreal Royals , marking the professional debut of the Royals’ Jackie Robinson. In his five trips to the plate, Robinson had four hits, including a three-run home run. He also scored four runs, drove in three, and stole two bases in the Royals’ 14–1 victory. Robinson proceeded to lead the International League that season with a .349 batting average and .985 fielding percentage and he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Although he often faced hostility while on road trips (the Royals were forced to cancel a Southern exhibition tour, for example), the Montreal fan base enthusiastically supported Robinson. Whether fans supported or opposed it, Robinson’s presence on the field was a boon to attendance; more than one million people went to games involving Robinson in 1946, an amazing figure by International League standards. 
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 Eddie Stanky: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Stanky
 first baseman: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_baseman
 On April 15, 1947, Robinson made his major league debut at Ebbets Field: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_robinson#cite_note-schwartz-80
 Although he failed to get a base hit, the Dodgers won 5–3. Robinson became the first player since 1880 to openly break the major league baseball color line.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_robinson#cite_note-McNeil357-113
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 KeySpan Park: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KeySpan_Park
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 World Series: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Series
 1955 World Championship: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1955_World_Series
 All-Star Games: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_League_Baseball_All-Star_Game
 MLB Rookie of the Year Award: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_League_Baseball_Rookie_of_the_Year_Award
 National League: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_League
 MVP Award: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_League_Baseball_Most_Valuable_Player_Award
 Image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_robinson#cite_note-5
 Baseball Hall of Fame: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Baseball_Hall_of_Fame_and_Museum
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 Harlem: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlem
 Presidential Medal of Freedom: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidential_Medal_of_Freedom
 Congressional Gold Medal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congressional_Gold_Medal
 Image: http://prosportsblogging.com/psb/uploads/2011/04/jackie-rachel-and-children.jpg
 sharecroppers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharecropping
 Cairo, Georgia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cairo,_Georgia
 Theodore Roosevelt: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Roosevelt
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 baseball color line: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baseball_color_line
 Brooklyn Dodgers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklyn_Dodgers
 racial segregation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_segregation
 Negro leagues: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negro_leagues
 Image: http://prosportsblogging.com/psb/uploads/2011/04/jackie-track-and-field.jpg
 Pomona: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomona,_California
 Ted Williams: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Williams
 Bob Lemon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Lemon
 In late January 1937, the Pasadena Star-News: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_robinson#cite_note-Rampp37-21
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 University of California, Los Angeles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_California,_Los_Angeles
 Image: http://prosportsblogging.com/psb/uploads/2011/04/ucla-jackie-football.jpg
 varsity letters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varsity_letter
 UCLA Bruins football: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UCLA_Bruins_football
 Woody Strode: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woody_Strode
 Kenny Washington: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenny_Washington_(American_football)
 NCAA Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Championship: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NCAA_Men%27s_Outdoor_Track_and_Field_Championship
 Rachel Isum: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachel_Robinson
 In the spring semester of 1941, Robinson left college just shy of graduation for a job as an assistant athletic director with the government’s National Youth Administration: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_robinson#cite_note-40
 Atascadero, California: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atascadero,_California
 Image: http://prosportsblogging.com/psb/uploads/2011/04/ucla.bmp
 Honolulu: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honolulu
 Los Angeles Bulldogs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_Bulldogs
 Pacific Coast Football League: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Coast_Football_League
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 World War II: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II
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 Fort Riley: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Riley
 Kansas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansas
 Officer Candidate School: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Officer_Candidate_School
 Robinson and his colleagues were delayed for several months. After protests by heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_robinson#cite_note-46
 Truman Gibson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truman_Gibson
 the men were accepted into OCS. Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_robinson#cite_note-48
 Image: http://prosportsblogging.com/psb/uploads/2011/04/jackie-cu.bmp
 KY: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kentucky
 honorable discharge: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_discharge#Honorable
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 Negro American League: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negro_American_League
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 shortstop: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shortstop
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 Branch Rickey: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Branch_Rickey
 GM: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_manager_(baseball)
 Brooklyn Dodgers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_Dodgers
 Image: http://prosportsblogging.com/psb/uploads/2011/04/robinson-doby-newcombe1.jpg
 Satchel Paige: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satchel_Paige
 Josh Gibson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josh_Gibson
 Daytona Beach, Florida: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daytona_Beach,_Florida
 spring training: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring_training
 Montreal Royals: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montreal_Royals
 Class AAA: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triple-A_(baseball)
 International League: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_League
 minor league baseball: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minor_league_baseball
 1946: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1946_in_baseball
 Vero Beach: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vero_Beach
 Dodgertown: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodgertown
 Johnny Wright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Wright_(baseball_player)
 Sanford, Florida: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanford,_Florida
 Jacksonville: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacksonville,_Florida
 stadium: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._P._Small_Memorial_Stadium
 DeLand: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DeLand,_Florida
 Image: http://prosportsblogging.com/psb/uploads/2011/04/Robinson-HOF-plaque.jpg
 Jersey City Giants: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_City_Giants
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