Jackie Robinson plus 70
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke “the color line”, or he became the first black man to put on major league uniform. He played first base that day for the Brooklyn Dodgers and went 0 for 3 at the plate.
Robinson achieved two great things in his brilliant career.
On the field, he was one of the key players for the Dodgers who won five NL pennants and the 1955 World Series. In 1949, Robinson, now playing second, was the National League’s Most Valuable Player. In 1950, he became the Dodgers’ highest paid player ($35,000). In 1955, Robinson led Brooklyn to its only World Series victory. He retired with a .311 average, 1,518 hits, 137 HR and a .409 On Base Pct. It got him elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.
We also remember him for being the man that he was:
Robinson stood up for equal rights even before he did so in baseball.
He was arrested and court-martialed during training in the Army for refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus.
He was eventually acquitted of the charges and received an honorable discharge.
After baseball. Jackie Robinson continued working for civil rights. Back in 2013, in anticipation of the movie 42, Michael Long wrote about Jackie Robinson’s post-baseball life:
After integrating baseball, Robinson became a full-fledged leader in the civil rights movement. As a board member of the NAACP, he traveled across the country in an effort to build morale among African Americans fighting for racial justice in their local communities.
And as a friend of Martin Luther King Jr., Robinson helped to lead civil rights campaigns in Albany (Ga.) and Birmingham. While in Albany, he was so moved by the efforts of black parishioners to register African-American voters — despite the fact that their church had been burned to the ground — that he offered to raise enough money to rebuild several torched churches.
In 1964, Robinson then founded Freedom National Bank in Harlem as a protest against white financial institutions that discriminated against African Americans by denying them loans or setting interest rates artificially high.
And while he criticized Harlem resident Malcolm X for advocating racial separatism and the use of “any means necessary,” Robinson saved his harshest public criticism for white politicians, including Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, when they hesitated, as they often did, to advance civil rights legislation.
These few examples of Robinson’s post-baseball life can help us begin to understand a claim he made in 1968: “I think I’ve become much more aggressive since I left baseball.” Coming from a man who stole home plate in the 1955 World Series, this claim gives us some indication of the importance he attributed to his baseball life.
What fueled Robinson’s aggression after baseball? No doubt, deadly violence against civil rights activists played a role. But if we dig a bit deeper, we can see that he was especially driven by his long-held belief that the people of God have an obligation to “set the captive free.”
Thanks to religious mentors, especially his mother Mallie, Robinson embraced a social gospel that called for freedom and justice right here and right now.
My last recollection of Jackie Robinson was during the 1972 World Series. He was honored on the 25th anniversary of his first game with the Dodgers. He looked weak, spoke very softly and died a few weeks later.
Jackie Robinson was consequential stealing home and in everything else that we remember today. A great American of the 20th century!