Today Major League Baseball will celebrate the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball. The legend of Jackie Robinson has been handed down from generation to generation as we learn how he endured endless abuses of jeers, hate mail, and even death threats. The story is of a lone trailblazer who faced all odds to become the first minority in baseball. Living in a newer generation, it is easy to take for granted that a player of any race from any country can play the game we love. (As long as he gets on base)
I wanted to share some thoughts and things you may not know about the legend himself and the day we set aside to remember him.
Jackie was a damn good ballplayer:
With a career slash of 311/409/474 and an average OPS+ 132, Jackie clearly had some ability at the plate. The ability that set Jackie apart from other players was his blazing speed. How fast was he? Jackie stole 107 bases before being caught stealing for the first time. His speed coupled with a high baseball IQ gave made him a nightmare on the base paths. When reaching base there was a 42.1% chance that he would eventually score, even if had to steal home. (He did that 19 times)
Jackie against he St. Louis Cardinals when Baseball was a contact sport.
Jackie won the 1947 Rookie of the year and was the 1949 NL MVP when he slashed 343/432/528 with 124RBI and 122 runs. He was a 6 time all star, and helped the Brooklyn Dodgers win the 1955 World Series. He had the ability to play multiple spots on the field playing first, second, third, and outfield at some point in his career. Any way you look at his numbers… The guy could flat out play!
Jackie had a bigger support system than you may think:
While there are a lot of stories focusing on the people that stood against Robinson, there was a good amount of people that stood beside him and applauded his success. In the Early 1940s progressive unions and civil rights groups protested infront of Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field.
The group collected over 1 million signatures petitioning for baseball to tear down the color barrier. Politicians like Isadore Muchnick, were putting more and more political pressure on teams to end the “Jim Crow Laws” in baseball. Teams like the Red Sox and Pirates held tryouts that were called bogus, as Managers and players don’t even show up. Jackie actually took part of one such tryout for Boston in spring of 1945.
Picketers in New York during a 1943 march to end the color barrier.
In 1944 Branch Ricky searched for the player that would be able to handle the adversity a minority player would face breaking that barrier. In October of 1945 Branch decided to offer a contract to Jackie Robinson. (A former 2nd Lieutenant, playing with the KC Monarchs)
Jackie Robinson Day a closer look:
Since 2004 teams all across baseball pay tribute to number 42, which was retired from all of baseball in 1997. The Los Angles Dodgers are unveiling a statue of Robinson that will depict the iconic image of him stealing home. Jackie’s wife Rachel and their children Sharon and David will be at the unveiling, which will take place at 5 pm central, before the game with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cardinals will be playing just 15 miles from where Ebbets field once stood, and Carlos Martinez will face C.C. Sabathia and both will don the number 42 as they take the mound.
I was at the Jackie Robinson day in 2013, when the Cardinals faced the Pirates in Pittsburgh. It was an amazing experience as players and fans took time to honor the legend. April 15th 2013 was also a somber day all across America as earlier in the day terrorists set off homemade bombs at the Boston Marathon. That act kept people from going to the PNC Park that night, and the stadium was virtually empty. This did not stop the Pirates and Cardinals from continuing the tradition of paying respect to Robinson. Before the game the scoreboard was a complete montage and history lesson of Jackie Robinson, as well as the players that came after him. There were exhibits around the stadium that highlighted stories of many players that broke down color barriers and also highlight several players that played their entire career in the Negro League. It was a truly inspiring experience.
To quote the wisdom of a movie The Sandlot, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Jackie will forever be a legend in his own category. A man who looked real adversity in the face and never backed down. Robinson’s legacy of advocating civil rights in education lives on through the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The JRF, established by Rachel Robinson a few months after her husband’s death in October 1972, offers educational and leadership programs for under-served youth.
“Life is not a spectator sport. If your going to spend your whole life in the grandstands, just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re waisting your life” -Jackie Robinson