When it comes to impact, Jack Roosevelt Robinson or as most call him Jackie Robinson is conceivably one the most historically important baseball players ever, ranking with legends such as Babe Ruth in terms of his influence on the national pastime. Ruth shifted the way baseball was played; Jackie Robinson shifted the thoughts and mindsets of people all across America. The first time Robinson entered the field as a Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, more than sixty years of racial segregation in major-league baseball (MLB) came to an abrupt end. Jackie was the first African American player to compete in the Major Leagues in the twentieth century and went on to be the first to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first to win the Most Valuable Player award, the first to win a batting title, and. He also won major-league baseball’s first-ever official Rookie of the Year award and was the first baseball player, to be placed on a United States postage stamp. Being the first African American to play in this league and to be decorated with so many accomplishments came with a lot of difficulties. Throughout his career, he faced racism, war, and people not wanting him to succeed. Within this essay, we will explore his life and how he was able to: combat racism, break the racial barrier and leave a legacy behind him.
Jackie Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. Jackie was the youngest of 5 children. He was four older brothers and an older sister. Jackie came from an impoverished family. His mother and father, Jerry and Mallie were sharecroppers until his father deserted the family when Jackie was only six months old. After his father left, his mother did what she could in order to move the family to California. The family traveled by train to Pasadena, California, in 1920 when Jackie was only 14 months old. His mother maintained a steady job as a domestic worker in order to pay bills. She would often bring home leftover food from the houses she cleaned in order to feed him and his siblings. With the assistance of a welfare agency, his mother was then able to purchase a home in a mainly Caucasian Pasadena neighborhood. Upon his family’s arrival, neighbors immediately petitioned to get rid of the newcomers and even offered to buy them out. When those efforts failed the Robinson family was harassed for years after. The Robinson boys often had to fight to defend themselves, and at a young age, Jackie was involved in his fair share of fights with local white children and even had some run-ins with law enforcement.
People noticed Jackie’s athletic talent at a very age. Following in the footsteps of his brother who was also a great athlete and a famous track runner Jackie excelled in just more than one sport. Throughout high school, he played basketball, baseball, football, and also track and field. Having to share the running back duties with Kenny Washington, “who later became one of the first black men to play in the National Football League”, according to Sports Weekly, “Jackie averaged 11-plus yards per carrying as a junior. According to Sports Weekly referred to him as ‘the greatest ball carrier on the gridiron today.” As a basketball player, Jackie was the head Pacific Coast Conference in scoring as a junior and as a senior. Because of his outstanding achievements in these sports, he was given the opportunity to attend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Here, in school, Jackie Robinson excelled in sports also.
Jackie Robinson has been fighting against racism his entire life. In 1938, while still in junior college, he was arrested after disputing the police’s holdings of one of his friends. He managed to escape a long jail sentence, but this and other run-ins with the police earned him a reputation of being very open and combative against racial oppression. Despite being a world-renowned athlete, and dominating in any sport he played, he was still black. After leaving college for financial reasons, Robinson played in Honolulu for a Hawaiian football team. Upon his return home from Hawaii shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Robinson was drafted into the United States Army in 1942. He was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, where he was originally denied entry into Officer Candidate School although he did have a college background. Luckily for Jackie fellow soldier, and boxer Joe Louis, who was also stationed at that same base, managed to get the decision revisited and reversed. Yet, Jackie was not allowed to play on the segregated camp baseball team. Which, according to a Sporting New article “infuriated him so much that he refused to play on the football team even when superior officers pressured him to do so.” After OCS, Robinson was used as a morale officer for the African American troops and won concessions for them that angered a few in command. After being relocated to Fort Hood, Texas, Jackie continued to stir up controversy. Jackie disobeyed a white bus driver’s command to move to the back of the bus ‘where the coloreds belonged.’ When the leaders of the base wherein support of the driver, Robinson objected. facing a dishonorable discharge. Jackie ended up winning the case, but the quickly sent him out with an honorable discharge.
Jackie Robinson’s negative clashes with white authority in the military led to his rise to the top of Branch Rickey’s list of people that could be used to break baseball’s color barrier. Rickey, the head of baseball’s desegregation, was a part-owner, general manager, and president of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey’s scouts had been searching the Negro Leagues for major-league talent to break the unwritten agreement to banned blacks from participating in the Major Leagues. Rickey was able to quietly pull Jackie from a club team in Montreal to the parent team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. April 15, 1947, was Robinson’s first major-league game: ‘It was the most eagerly anticipated debut in the annals of the national pastime,’ wrote Robert Lipsyte and Pete Levine in Idols of the Game. ‘It represented both the dream and the fear of equal opportunity, and it would change forever the complexion of the game and the attitudes of Americans.’ In the World Series, Jackie and his teammates lost to the Yankees in a seven-game series. This 1947 season was the first in which the full membership of the Baseball Writers Association of America selected a Rookie of the Year, and Robinson beat Larry Jansen of the New York Giants for the award.
On January 22, 1957, Robinson’s announced his retirement from baseball in an article in Look magazine, in which he took a few parting shots at the few segregated teams that remained in the majors. Jackie had actually decided to retire before he was dealt with the Giants, but couldn’t say anything earlier because of the deal he had with Look. The Giants reportedly offered him $60,000 to stay. He thought played with the idea of staying until Brooklyn general manager Buzzy Bavasi publicly Stated that “Robinson was just trying to use the magazine article to get a better contract.” This led to Robinson’s decision to prove the Dodgers wrong and declined the Giants’ offer. Though Robinson’s career as a major-league baseball player was over, he was not about to retire from being in the spotlight. He was hired as the chairman of the Board of Freedom National Bank, founded to provide loans and banking services for minority members who were largely being ignored by established banks. He was also a vice president and served at the Chock full o’Nuts coffee company. He authored several autobiographical works and hosted a radio show.
Though Robinson was scorned by some of his teammates, was harassed by enemy bench jockeys, and received a steady diet of fastballs close to his head; he faithfully abided by his promise to Rickey to turn the other cheek. Even when veteran outfielder Enos ‘Country’ Slaughter of the Cardinals appeared to deliberately try to maim him with his spikes in an August 20 game at Ebbets Field, Jackie didn’t retaliate. Robinson did what he could to break the racial barrier in the major league in order to pave the way for African American baseball players after him. Jackie Robinson did not let racial tension get to him. He made his life bigger than just baseball and left a legacy behind him. Jackie Robinson as he began to age gave out early. Diabetes and heart disease weakened him and he was almost blind in middle age. On October 24, 1972, he died of a heart attack at 53. In 1997, baseball dedicated the season to Robinson on the 50th anniversary of his debut.
- Frommer, Harvey. Rickey & Robinson: The Men Who Broke Baseball’s Color Barrier. New York: Macmillan, 1982.
- Marshall, William. Baseball’s Pivotal Era 1945-51. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999.
- Ardolino, Frank, ‘Jackie Robinson and the 1941 Honolulu Bears.’ The National Pastime, SABR, 1995.
- The Sporting News, November 1, 1945.
- New York Daily News, July 20, 1972.