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The story of Jackie Robinson

April 10, 2018 GMT

Jackie Robinson burst onto the scene in 1947, breaking baseball’s color barrier and bringing his electrifying style of play to the majors. He quickly became baseball’s top drawing card and a symbol of hope to millions of Americans.

The youngest of five children, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was raised by a single mother. He attended John Muir High School and Pasadena Junior College, where he was an excellent athlete and played four sports: football, basketball, track and baseball. He was named the region’s Most Valuable Player in baseball in 1938.

Robinson continued his education at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he became the university’s first student to win varsity letters in four sports. In 1941, despite his athletic success, Robinson was forced to leave UCLA just shy of graduation due to financial hardship. He moved to Honolulu, where he played football for the semi-professional Honolulu Bears. His season with the Bears was cut short when the United States entered into World War II.

From 1942 to 1944, Robinson served as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. He never saw combat. However, during boot camp in 1944 in Fort Hood, Texas, he was arrested and court-martialed after refusing to give up his seat and move to the back of a segregated bus when ordered to by the driver.

After his discharge from the Army in 1944, Robinson began to play baseball professionally. At the time, the sport was segregated, so Robinson began playing in the Negro Leagues. But he was soon chosen by Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to help integrate major league baseball.

He joined the Montreal Royals, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1946. Robinson later moved to Florida to begin spring training with the Royals. He had an outstanding start with the Royals, leading the International League with a .349 batting average and .985 fielding percentage. His successful year led to his promotion with the Dodgers. Robinson played his first game in Ebbets Field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947 — becoming the first Black player to compete in the major leagues.

From the beginning of his career with the Dodgers, Robinson dealt with racism. Even some of his new teammates objected to having an African American on their team. People in the crowds sometimes jeered at Robinson, and he and his family received threats.

The harassment continued, most notably by the Philadelphia Phillies and their manager, Ben Chapman. During one infamous game, Chapman and his team shouted derogatory terms at Robinson from their dugout. Many players on opposing teams threatened not to play against the Dodgers. Even his own teammates threatened to sit out. But Dodgers manager Leo Durocher informed them that he would sooner trade them than Robinson. His loyalty to the player set the tone for the rest of Robinson’s career with the team.

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.

With Robinson as the catalyst, the Dodgers won six pennants in his 10 seasons. He dominated games on the base paths, stealing home 19 times while riling opposing pitchers with his daring base-running style. Robinson was named National League MVP in 1949, leading the loop in hitting (.342) and steals (37), while knocking in 124 runs.

Throughout his decade-long career with the Dodgers, Robinson made advances in 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.

After baseball, Robinson became active in business and continued his work as an activist for social change. He worked as an executive for the Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee company and restaurant chain and helped establish the African-American-owned and -controlled Freedom Bank. He served on the board of the NAACP until 1967 and was the first African-American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

In 1972, the Dodgers retired his uniform number 42. In 1997, Major League Baseball universally retired his uniform number across all major league teams; he was the first pro athlete in any sport to be honored that way. Initiated for the first time on April 15, 2004, Major League Baseball has adopted a new annual tradition, “Jackie Robinson Day,” on which every player on every team wears number 42.

Robinson died in Connecticut in 1972. After his death, his wife, Rachel, established the Jackie Robinson Foundation dedicated to honoring his life and work. The foundation helps young people in need by providing scholarships and mentoring programs.