by Landus Rigsby
Tributes are extended to heroes, and memories are what keep them alive. Major League Baseball has dedicated this season to Jackie Robinson, a man who will always be remembered for breaking the color barrier in baseball.
The year 1947 will always be remembered as the year the barrier of baseball segregation was brought down. As the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s first year in the majors takes place this season, the legacy of Robinson was honored Tuesday night at a jam-packed Shea Stadium in New York when the Los Angeles Dodgers took on the New York Mets. Tuesday also marked the exact date of Robinson’s major league debut 50 years ago at Ebbets Field.
Acting baseball commissioner Bud Selig retired No. 42, saying that all the players currently wearing the number on their uniform can keep the number until the end of their career, but from now on, no baseball team will issue that uniform number.
President Bill Clinton and Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, also spoke on behalf of the man of honor.
“It is hard to believe that it was 50 years ago at Ebbets Field that a 28-year-old rookie changed the face of baseball and the face of America forever,” said Clinton. “Jackie Robinson scored the go-ahead run that day and we’ve all been trying to catch up ever since.”
Mrs. Robinson’s message to the crowds at Shea Stadium was, “I believe that the greatest tribute that we can pay to Jackie Robinson is to gain new support for a more equitable society.”
There was another special tribute led by long time Dodger play-by-play sportscaster Vin Scully at Dodger Stadium April 5, in which Rachel Robinson and other family members and friends paid their respects to the hall of famer.
Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Ga., on Jan. 31, 1919. He was the youngest of five children born to Jerry and Mallie Robinson. A year later, after Jerry deserted the family, Mallie moved to Pasadena to raise her five children.
Athletic versatility eventually led Robinson to Pasadena Junior College and later UCLA, after excelling in track, baseball, football, basketball and tennis at John Muir High School. At Pasadena, his abilities in baseball allowed him to be recruited to UCLA in 1939, where he became the first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports-basketball, baseball, football and track. In basketball, he was the Pacific Coast Conference leading scorer, won the NCAA broad jump title (25’61/2″) in 1940 and was named All-American in football in 1941, after leading the nation in rushing.
Robinson enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 and was commissioned a year later as second lieutenant. Opposition to racial discrimination led to Robinson facing a court martial, for refusing to sit in the back of the Army bus. He was acquitted.
After playing a couple of years in the Negro Leagues, Brooklyn Dodger general manager Branch Rickey decided to take a chance and bring the 28-year-old Robinson into the majors as a second baseman. The trials and sufferings with becoming the first African-American to play in major league baseball would be numerous acts of racism and resentment from other players and fans.
Robinson overcame all the obstacles of threatening letters and resentment and went on to become the Rookie of the Year in 1947 while leading the league in stolen bases. In 1949, Robinson became the league’s MVP and won the batting title by hitting .342 and once again leading the league in stolen bases with 37.
Scoring runs was always on Robinson’s mind during his 10-year career, in which he stole home a total of 19 times, including once during the World Series. Robinson also played a big role in the Dodgers’ first World Series Championship in 1955 and led the team to six pennants from 1947-1956.
After being traded to the New York Giants in December 1956, Robinson decided to retire rather than to play for another team. Six years after his retirement, Robinson also became the first African-American ballplayer to be inducted to the Hall of Fame.
Robinson passed away at his home in Stamford, Conn. in 1972 at the age of 53. Now, almost 25 years after his death, “America’s Game” dedicates this baseball season to one of America’s greatest sports heroes.