“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” (Jackie Robinson). In the United States in the 1940s, segregation was the way of life. You probably know Jackie Robinson as number 42; the first black man to play major league baseball. In 1947, he broke the color barrier in Major League baseball. Jackie Robinson’s life had many twists and turns. He was a very strong man who impacted a countless number of people and still does today.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. Jackie was named after President Theodore Roosevelt. About a year after he was born, he moved to Pasadena, California with his mother. In California, he started to learn about how awful discrimination and racism was. Jackie watched his brothers play sports as he grew up. He attended John Muir Highschool and excelled in four sports. In high school and college, he played basketball, baseball, football, and track. His mother was a labor worker and they did not have much money, but Jackie found his own way of living.
Jackie’s parents are Mallie and Jerry Robinson. He was born into a sharecropping family. Jackie’s dad left when he was about a year old and he never saw him again. His grandparents were slaves. He was the youngest of 5 children. He had three older brothers Mack, Edgar, and Frank, and one sister, Willa Mae. Jackie met nursing student Rachel Isum at UCLA. He married Rachel on February 10, 1946. They had three kids; Jack Robinson Jr., Sharon, and David. Jack Jr. died in a car accident when he was 24. His daughter Sharon is an author and a consultant for Major League baseball and his son David is a coffee farmer in Tanzania.
Jackie played four sports at UCLA, basketball, baseball, football, and track. He was the first person to get varsity letters in four sports at UCLA. He went to Honolulu, Hawaii to play semi-professional football for the Bears. About halfway through the season, he was drafted into the army for World War II. Jackie served as Second Lieutenant in the army, but he was never in combat. In this time African Americans were not allowed to serve alongside white people. In boot camp at Fort Hood, Texas, he refused to move to the back of the segregated army bus and he almost got kicked out of the army. In 1944, Jackie left the army with an honorable discharge. Jackie started playing baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs. While playing for the Monarchs, he had a batting average of .387 and he was an outstanding shortstop. The general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers Branch Rickey wanted to integrate Major League Baseball. He wanted to win the pennant. Branch Rickey knew the racism and comments would be nasty, so he wanted to find someone strong enough to handle it and not fight back. Branch approached Jackie to play for the Dodgers, and in their first conversation Jackie said, “Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a negro who is afraid to fight back?”, Branch replied, “Robinson, I am looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.” https://www.ducksters.com/sports/jackie_robinson.php.
Jackie started playing for the Dodgers farm team, the Montreal Royals. It did not take long for the racism to start, teams would not show up for games, he got yelled at, threatened, and things are thrown at him. He was able to work through it and play hard. While playing for the Royals he had a .349 batting average. He won the league’s MVP award. In 1947, Jackie was called up to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He played his first major league season as a first baseman. On April 15, 1947, Jackie became the first African American to play Major League Baseball, when he was 28 years old. There began to be more and more black fans at each game. The Dodgers players opposed Jackie playing on the team. They said they would rather sit out. “This is the United States of America and one citizen has as much right to play as another.” (Ford Rick). Jackie had 175 hits, scoring a total of 125 runs, 12 were home runs, 48 RBIs, and 28 stolen bases. “This guy didn’t just come to play. He came to beat ya.” (Leo Voucher). That year the Dodgers won the pennant and Jackie received the Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year award.
“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” (Jackie Robinson). In the 1940s, the United States was segregated. Now it is normal to have mixed-race teams. However, in the 1940s, it was not a thing. Black people were prohibited from playing baseball with white people. Brooklyn was a very segregated city, the African American population was only 4 percent. Many people opposed Jackie signing to play for the Dodgers and the integration of baseball. The harassment and abuse that Jackie had to work through without showing anger would get someone in major trouble today. His strength, courage, and black supporters got him through, but having his wife Rachel by his side, was the most important thing.
In Jackie’s baseball career, he had a batting average of .311. He had a total of 137 home runs and 197 stolen bases. He was a great bunter and base stealer. His best position was second base. He won the All-Star award 6 times. Jackie retired from baseball on January 5, 1957. Jackie retired because the Dodgers traded him for a pitcher and $30,000 after winning their sixth National League Pennant. He did not accept the trade to the Dodger's biggest rival, the New York Giants, so he retired. Jackie sent a letter to Horace Stoneham, the Giants owner, requesting to retire. Warren Giles, the National League president approved Jackie’s request to retire and added his name to the voluntary retired list. His letter remains in The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Jackie played for the Dodgers for 10 years.
“Jackie Robinson is perhaps the most historically significant baseball player ever, ranking with Babe Ruth in terms of his impact on the national pastime.” (Rick Swaine). When Jackie stepped foot on the field for the first time playing Major League Baseball broke the color barrier and ended more than sixty years of segregation in baseball. “He became a national hero to both black and white Americans because of his skill, bravery, and restraint.” Jackie opened up opportunities for more African Americans to play major league baseball. He was able to bring people together through baseball as many were struggling with the war. He integrated baseball, but that is not all. When he refused to move to the back of the army bus, he helped integrate into the army.
After Jackie retired from baseball, he became active in the business and continued to work as an activist for social change. He was the first black U.S. Vice President of a national corporation. In 1964, he helped establish the Freedom National Bank. The foundation was to help African Americans gain financial independence. Jackie called the Yankees out for being racist in 1952 when they still did not have any African American players after 5 years of the color barrier getting broken. Jackie passed away on October 24, 1972, because of a heart attack. At 7:10 A.M. he passed away in Stamford Hospital in Connecticut. Jackie was 53 years old. Rachel Robinson started the Jackie Robinson Foundation after he passed away. It is to help young people by mentoring programs and providing scholarships. He was entered into the hall of fame in 1962. His jersey number 42 was retired in 1972. Every year on April 15th, everyone puts on the number 42 for Jackie Robinson day.
“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion, you’re wasting your life.” (Jackie Robinson). Jackie did not stand back and watch or let things happen. Jackie worked in the world and took risks to change the world. He helped end segregation in many organizations. He was so much more than just the first African American baseball player. His life accomplishments inspire me and have inspired and impacted so many people. The movie “42” about his baseball career, it is what inspired me to write a research report about him. I hope this will inspire you in a way to do something big in the world. He is proof that you can make anything happen if you are courageous.
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