04/15 – Jackie Robinson’s Debut

Robinson early on in his career as “no. 42”. Although he began his career on first base, Robinson – through relentless practice – eventually became one of the best hitters in the league. (Jackie Robinson.com)

On this day in 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers faced off against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field, NYC. At first base was no. 42, a brand-new player by the name of Jackie Robinson – the very first African American to play professional baseball in America. Aided by a few quick catches from Robinson, the Dodgers handily beat the Braves 5-3. The 28 year-old Robinson made every play look easy – but his journey to Ebbets Field had been anything but.

Jackie Robinson (5th from left, no. 42) with fellow members of the 1954 Dodgers. Beginning in 1948, other teams had begun breaking the “colour barrier” and employing African American players. (Inside The Game)

Born in Georgia, Robinson excelled at every sport he tried and played basketball, football, and baseball for UCLA. As the United States entered WWII, Robinson joined the US Army and eventually obtained a commission as an officer in the 761st “Black Panthers”, an all-black tank regiment. After refusing to sit at the back of an Army bus, however, Robinson was charged and barred from serving with his unit. Discharged in 1944, Robinson began playing baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs (a Negro League team) but was quickly scouted by Branch Rickey, manager for the Dodgers. Robinson played for the Montreal Royals (a farm team for the Dodgers), where he faced considerable racism when on tour in America – but was adored by his Canadian fans back in Montreal. Eventually, Rickey offered Robinson a spot on the Dodgers, but on one condition: that he would not fight players or spectators who shouted racial slurs at him. Stunned, Robinson replied “Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” “No,” Rickey replied, adding that he wanted a player “with guts enough not to fight back.” An agreement was reached, and Robinson joined the Dodgers’ 1947 lineup.

Robinson (centre) during the March on Washington, August of 1962. (Robert Scherman)

After his first game on April 15th, Robinson rapidly gained a reputation as a skilful (and thick-skinned) player. Constantly exposed to verbal abuse from teammates and spectators, Robinson nevertheless remained focused on the game at hand and was declared League MVP in 1949. When the Dodgers beat the New York Yankees and secured the World Series in 1955, Robinson played an integral part in that victory. In 1956, Robinson retired from baseball but remained in the spotlight, working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and marching on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Regarded by King as a crucial figure in the Civil Rights movement, Robinson’s entry into the MLB broke the “colour barrier” and soon after his debut, American teams were packed with talented African American players. Speaking of Robinson in the 1950s, Dodgers’ manager Leo Durocher remarked that…

“Ya want a guy that comes to play. This guy didn’t just come to play. He come to beat ya. He come to stuff the goddamn bat right up your ass.”

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