Jackie Robinson

History | Early Years | Military | Baseball Career | Post Baseball | Awards

       Jackie Robinson was the first African- American Major League Baseball player in the modern era. Robinson made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. At this time in the United States, many white people believed that blacks and whites should not compete in sports together. Jackie went on to have a great professional career, despite the obstacles he faced. He played for six World Series teams and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

      In his first year Robinson won both the Sporting News Rookie of the Year Award and the MLB Rookie of the Year Award. After his third season he was named the National League MVP, the first black player to achieve such an honor. On the 50th anniversary of the day he made his debut, MLB retired his jersey number 42 across all MLB teams. Robinson was also very successful off the baseball field. He was the first African-American Major League Baseball analyst, as well as the first black vice president of a major American corporation. After Robinson died of a heart attack in 1972 his wife, Rachel Anneta Islum founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

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Early Years

Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919. Jackie’s middle name "Roosevelt" was in honor of former president Theodore Roosevelt who had died 25 days before Jackie was born. Robinson and his family moved to Pasadena California after their father left them. Robinson enrolled in John Muir High School in 1935 after graduating from Dakota Junior High School. He lettered in four sports: football, basketball, track, and baseball. Jackie’s older brother Matthew inspired Jackie to pursue his love and talent for athletics.

Jackie attended Pasadena Junior College after leaving John Muir High School. At Pasadena Junior College Jackie played quarterback and safety for the football team, shortstop for the baseball team, and participated in the broad jump. Robinson left Pasadena Junior College in 1939 when he transferred to UCLA. At UCLA he became the first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track. Robinson ultimately withdrew from UCLA with one semester to go and took a job with the government’s National Youth Association, where he briefly worked as an athletic director. He then went on to Honolulu to play football for the Honolulu Bears, a semi-professional team. The season was brief and Robinson returned home after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was drafted to the army the following year. 

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Military Time

Jackie was drafted to the United States Army and was assigned to Fort Riley, Kansas. White men with Robinson's level of education were allowed to go to Officer Candidate School, whereas blacks were not allowed.  Robinson asked Heavyweight Champ Joe Louis, whom he met during basic training, for help to be allowed to train to become an officer. After Louis talked with a friend in Washington D.C. the army allowed Jackie and several other black men to train to become officers. Robinson was commissioned a second lieutenant and re-assigned to Fort Hood, Texas. There he joined the 761st "Black Panthers" Tank Battalion.

Robinson was charged 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, for an incident that occurred aboard an Army bus. The driver ordered Robinson to the back of the bus and he refused. When the bus reached the end of the line the driver summoned the Military Police, who took Robinson into custody. Robinson confronted the officers on scene and the officers recommended he be court-martialed. The charges were reduced to only include Robinson's alleged insubordination. He was acquitted by an all white panel of nine officers. He was then transferred again, this time to Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky. He received his honorable discharge in November 1944. Although the 761st Tank Battalion was the first black tank unit to see combat, Robinson never saw combat action in World War II.

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Baseball Career

Jackie Robinson was playing for the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs when he was selected by Branch Rickey to be assigned to the Montreal Royals(the Brooklyn Dodgers AAA farm club). Branch Rickey was club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. At the time Rickey selected Robinson for this assignment he was batting .387 and playing shortstop for the Monarchs. Rickey asked Robinson if he could restrain himself from the racial hatred that would be sure to follow in the Major League. Robinson asked Rickey "Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?" Rickey replied that he needed a Negro player with guts not to fight back.

      Robinson attended spring training in 1946 in Daytona, Florida with the Montreal Royals. He played his first integrated game in organized ball on March 17 1946. That season Jackie led the International league with a .349 batting average and .985 fielding percentage.  Robinson played well for Montreal despite the hositility he faced during road trips. The local fans in Montreal supported him as their summer hero.

      Robinson was called up to the Dodgers six days before the 1947 season. He made is debut on April 15, 1947 before a crowd of 26,623 spectators. Over half of which were black. The Dodgers won the game 5-3 with Robinson going hitless. He became the first player to break the color line since 1887. He played along divided lines. Virtually all blacks and many whites applauded the decision to let him play. A large number of white people objected the decision. Other Major Leaguers objected the move. Robinson's high level of play dealt a huge blow to segregation and caused many racial barriers to fall.  Hotels that the Dodgers frequently stayed at integrated so that Jackie could stay with his teammates. In that first year Robinson hit .297 and led the National League in stolen bases. He also won the first ever Rookie of the Year Award.

      In Jackie's second season, he moved to his natural position at second base. He had a batting average of .296 and stole 22 bases. The Dodgers finished third in the National League that year with the Braves winning the league title. Robinson had less pressure in his second season as there were a number of black players in the league. In 1949, Robinson's third season, he enjoyed his most successful season as he batted .342 and stole 37 bases. The Dodgers won the pennant that year but eventually lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series. In 1950 Robinson batted .328 with 12 stolen bases. Robinson's salary during this year was $35,000, and at the time was the highest amount paid in Dodger's history. 

      In 1951 Jackie batted .338 and had 25 stolen bases.  For the second year in a row he led the league in most double plays by a second baseman with 137. In the last game of that season Robinson made a season saving defensive play in the 12th inning and hit the game winning home run in the 14th inning. These heroics forced a three game playoff against the Giants. The Dodgers ultimately lost the pennant to the Giants on Bobby Thompson's home run in the last at bat of game 3. In 1952 Robinson batted .308 with 24 stolen bases. He followed that up in 1953 batting .329 with 17 steals. In 1954 he batted .311 with only 7  steals.

      Robinson won his only championship in 1955 when the Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in the World Series. Ironically this was Jackie's worst year, in which he hit only .256 and stole 12 bases. He missed 49 games in all and didn't even play in game 7 of the World Series. Due to Robinson's diminishing abilities, the Dodgers tried him in the outfield and at third base during the season. Jim Gilliam a rising black player had staked his claim on second base. In 1956 Jackie batted .275 with 12 steals. He was traded after the 1956 season to the New York Giants for Dick Littlefiield and $35,000 cash. This is frequently thought of as the reason Jackie retired, but before the trade, he had agreed to become a top executive with Chock full o'Nuts. Instead of announcing his retirement through the Dodgers, Robinson announced his retirement in Look magazine.

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Post Baseball

       Jackie Robinson retired from baseball on January 5, 1957. After retiring from baseball Robinson was the vice president of personnel at Chock full o’Nuts from 1957 to 1964. He was the first black person to serve as vice president for an American Corporation. He was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1962. He was the first African American honored in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He served as an analyst for ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week in 1965. He was the first black person in an analyst’s role for Major League Baseball. On June 4, 1972, Robinson’s uniform number 42 was retired by the Dodgers. Late in his life Robinson was weakened by heart disease complications and diabetes. Jackie Robinson died of a heart attack on October 24, 1972.

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  • National League Rookie of the Year in 1947.
  • Major League Rookie of the Year in 1947.
  • National League MVP in 1949.
  • National League Batting Champion in 1949.
  • Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962
  • Jersey #42 retired by the Dodgers in 1972.
  • NAACP awarded Robinson the Springarn Medal, which is given annually for the highest achievement by an African-American.
  • Posthumously awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985.
  • Posthumously awarded Congressional Gold Medal, by the United States Congress, the highest award given by Congress, in 2003.
  • Inducted into the Californai Hall of Fame in 2007.
  • UCLA Bruins stadium was named Jackie Robinson Stadium.
  • Jersey #42 was retired for all Major League teams.
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