There are moments in time where time itself demands change. There was one such moment in the Spring of 1947 when an African American baseball player named Jackie Robinson stepped up to the plate and changed the face of sports. It is an honor for me to pay homage to Mr. Robinson whose character, stature, and integrity was beyond reproach.
Born January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, Jackie Robinson was the first African American to play in the so-called major leagues in more than fifty years. Throughout his decade-long career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he made advancements for the cause of civil rights for black athletes. In 1955, he helped the Dodgers win the World Series. He retired in 1957, with a career batting average of .311.
Now, as is often the case with “His-Story”, much of what we know about history is a myth. Let me use one of my favorite quotes from the prolific French writer, historian, and philosopher Voltaire, who said: “History is a pack of trick we play upon the dead.” What I mean by that is this dynamic historical event actually was as simple as a black man being allowed to play a game with white people as a result of the rigid “Jim Crow” laws mandated by the law of the land.
At the time sports, as well as everywhere south of Canada was segregated. African Americans and whites played in separate leagues with Robinson, who played in the famed Negro Leagues. Robinson was chosen by Branch Rickey, a vice president with the Brooklyn Dodgers, to help integrate major league baseball. He joined the all-white Montreal Royals, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1945. He moved to Florida in 1946 to begin spring training with the Royals and played his first game on March 17 of that same year.
His-Story tells us that Branch Rickey did this out of good conscience and for the cause of civil rights. Well, that is not exactly true. Rickey saw an opportunity to make money. The Negro league was prospering, and the white league was barely surviving. He knew if he could convince one Negro player to play for him, the others would follow, and they did. Hence, the Negro league ceased to exist. It is important to note that Robinson was not the best player in the Negro League. He was an average player but better than all of the white players playing in the white league at the time.
It is not my intention to neither demean nor take away from the significance of the huge step toward equality. Despite the racial abuse, particularly at away games, Robinson character prevailed as he endured the most brutal harassment, threats, and derogatory language hurled at him on and off the field. It is because of his superb character that we should celebrate this great man.
Jackie Robinson succeeded in putting the prejudice and racial strife aside and showed everyone what a talented player he was. In his first year, he hit 12 home runs and helped the Dodgers win the National League pennant. That year, Robinson led the National League in stolen bases and was selected as Rookie of the Year. He continued to wow fans and critics alike with impressive feats, such as an outstanding .342 batting average during the 1949 season. He led in stolen bases that year and earned the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Robinson also became a vocal champion for African-American athletes, civil rights, and other social and political causes. In July 1949, he testified on discrimination before the House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1952, he publicly called out the Yankees as a racist organization for not having broken the color barrier five years after he began playing with the Dodgers.
In his decade-long career with the Dodgers, Robinson, and his team won the National League pennant several times. Finally, in 1955, he helped them achieve the ultimate victory: the World Series. After failing before in four other series match-ups; the Dodgers beat the New York Yankees. He helped the team win one more National League pennant the following season and was then traded to the New York Giants. Jackie Robinson retired shortly after the trade, on January 5, 1957, with an impressive career batting average of .311.
Let me close with what really happened that day – number 42 was just a number until Mr. Jackie Robinson wore it! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…