Jackie Robinson (303535)
Jackie Robinson Credit: Image by janeb13 from Pixabay

Major League Baseball will celebrate Jackie Robinson Day today throughout stadiums across the country. From its inception in 2004, the annual commemoration honors Robinson breaking MLB’s color barrier and becoming its first Black player when he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15th, 1947.

All MLB teams scheduled to play will honor Robinson by wearing specially designed uniforms featuring his number, 42, which was retired by the league on April 15, 1997. It was the first time a player’s number had been retired by a major American sports league. Managers, coaches and umpires will also have their uniforms adorned with Robinson’s number.

The collective tribute takes place at a time the country is dealing with another shooting of a Black man by a police officer. On Sunday, 20-year-old Duane Wright was shot and killed in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota by Kim Potter, a 48-year-old, 26-year veteran of the city’s police department. Robinson spent a lifetime fighting for racial justice and equality.

He was born Jack Roosevelt Robinson on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. Before turning one-years-old, Robinson’s mother moved the family, which included his four siblings, to Pasadena, California. Before he was signed to a contract by Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey in 1945, Robinson was a four-sport star – baseball, basketball, football and track – at UCLA, a commissioned second lieutenant in the segregated United States Army, and a Negro Leagues standout with the Kansas City Monarchs.

In his MLB career spanning from 1947-1956, Robinson, playing first, second and third base, was the 1947 Rookie of the Year, six-time All-Star, National League stolen base leader in 1947, and the NL MVP and batting champion in 1949. Robinson’s Dodgers teams won six NL pennants and the 1955 World Series.

He is considered by many scholars as one of the most influential figures of the 20th century and was a significant presence in the Civil Rights Movement. After his retirement in 1957, Robinson’s activism and positions on integration, aligned with those of Martin Luther King, conflicted with the militant beliefs of Malcolm X. His disagreements with Malcolm X over issues concerning the Black community were publicly polarizing.  

Robinson was the first black television analyst in baseball and the first black vice-president of a major American corporation, holding that title for coffee company Chock full o’ Nuts. He was also a co-founder of the Freedom National Bank, an African-American-owned financial institution based in the Harlem section of New York City. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Robinson died October 24th, 1972 in Stamford, Connecticut at the far too early age of 53 from a heart attack. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his achievements on and off the field.