Jackie Robinson Day & the Racial Lines He Broke

by Tonya Whitaker

In 1947, Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson (1919-1972) became the first African-American to play baseball in the majors. Major League Baseball honors Robinson's accomplishment by holding ceremonies at baseball parks around the country on April 15, the day he made his historic premiere with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

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Getting to the Majors

According to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, Robinson decided that he wanted to play baseball after being discharged from the Army in 1944. However, during this time, baseball was segregated. He began playing for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League. But he was not there long. In 1945, Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, approached Robinson about playing baseball for his team. After spending two years with the Montreal Royals in the Dodgers' farm system, Robinson was promoted to the Dodgers. With the Royals, he was the lone person of color and was not welcomed. On April 15, 1947, Robinson made his Major League debut.

No Heartfelt Reception

Not everyone welcomed Robinson's first at-bat as a Dodger. Robinson faced racial harassment from some teammates, opposing teams and baseball fans. In an incident a few days after Robinson's first Dodgers game, Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman and his players shouted hateful words at Robinson. According to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, when some of his teammates considered boycotting Robinson's games, manager Leo Durocher said that he considered trading them instead of Robinson. Despite the odds against him, Robinson became Rookie of the Year; in 1949, he was the National League's Most Valuable Player. Robinson played for the Dodgers for 10 years, appearing in two World Series, winning one championship. After a trade to the New York Giants, Robinson retired in 1957.

Legacy of a Legend

Robinson's act of breaking the racial barrier in baseball brought him accolades after his career was over. In 1962, Robinson became the first African-American inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He ended his career with a .311 batting average, according to MLB.com. After leaving baseball, Robinson campaigned for greater integration in baseball, including the hiring of African-American managers. In 1972, the year of his death, the Dodgers retired No. 42. Robinson also paved the way for other African-American baseball players, including Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays and Satchel Paige.

Remembering Jackie

Before 2004, Major League Baseball did not have a permanent way to honor Robinson. Then baseball star Ken Griffrey Jr. spoke up. According to MLB.com writer Alden Gonzalez, Griffey approached Commissioner Bud Selig about honoring Robinson. His conversation worked. In 2004, Selig declared that each team would honor Robinson on April 15. On this day, all the teams' players and skippers wear No. 42.

Day of Impact

Most clubs hold pregame and community activities on April 15 to honor Robinson. The Los Angeles Dodgers, for instance, held a daylong celebration in 2011. Former and current Dodgers participated in a panel discussion on Robinson's legacy. Before the Dodgers' game against the St. Louis Cardinals in Dodger Stadium, fans watched a tribute to Robinson. Elsewhere, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington and New York Yankee manager Joe Girardi teamed up in Newark, New Jersey, to speak with youngsters about the principles Robinson stood for -- equality and acceptance.

About the Author

Tonya Whitaker has worked as a professional journalist and copy editor since 1998. She has written columns and features for "The Huntsville Item" and "North Dallas Gazette." Whitaker earned a Bachelor of Science in sociology from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, and is pursuing a Master of Arts in English from Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas.

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