One of the highlights of the start of the Major League Baseball season is their celebration of Jackie Robinson, the first American Black man to play Major League Baseball, breaking their color line the way other color lines in America, such color lines in education, voting, employment that were imposed upon Black Americans throughout time, have been broken.
Each year since 2004, Major League Baseball celebrates the legacy of Robinson on April 15, Jackie Robinson Day, now an annual tradition. On that day, each home team hosts a ceremony honoring him. Both teams wear uniforms with Robinson’s number, 42, along with commemorative patches for players’ jerseys and caps.
Although there were six rained out games on Sunday, the other host teams continued the storied tradition.
“He added so much life to the game,” said Joe Maddon, the manager of the Chicago Cubs, with emphasis on Robinson’s base running skills. “I think people showed up just to see this guy play, regardless of skin color.”
The Cubs game against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Sunday was one of those postponed. The game and their tribute have been rescheduled for May 14.
In honor of Robinson, Major League Baseball retired his number in 1997. That number can never again be worn by any of its league players. He was the first pro athlete in any sport to be honored in this way.
Robinson, voted into the Hall of Fame in 1962, took the field starting for the Brooklyn Dodgers for the first time on April 15, 1947. His signature on the Dodgers’ contract ended racial segregation in professional baseball. Until then, Black players only played in the Negro leagues.
During his extremely productive 10-year career in the major leagues, all with the Dodgers, Robinson was the recipient of the Rookie of the Year Award in 1947 and the National League Batting Champion in 1949, the year he was voted the NL’s Most Valuable Player of the National League. From 1949 to 1954, Robinson was voted to the National League All-Star team, six consecutive years. With Robinson, the Dodgers won six National League pennants and the World Series in 1955.
Robinson, born Jan. 31, 1919, in Cairo, Ga., retired from baseball in 1956 to become the vice president of Chock Full O’Nuts, the first Black American to do so for a major American corporation. Robinson was also very influential in the Civil Rights Movement, and helped establish the Freedom National Bank in the 1960s, an African-American-owned financial institution based here in Harlem, N.Y.
Robinson was also the first Black television sports analyst. After his death in 1972 at the age of only 53, Robinson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom for his achievements on and off the field.
Robinson’s wife and daughter, Rachel and Sharon, continue to work on his behalf through the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a public, nonprofit organization that perpetuates Robinson’s memory by providing four-year college scholarships to deserving students, and through the creation of the Jackie Robinson Museum, which is expected to open in lower Manhattan in 2019. The state-of-the-art museum commemorates the life of Robinson as an athlete, an activist and an icon whose life had a great influence upon sports and upon society.