On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson stepped onto the field as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. While Major League Baseball players had been doing this for decades, this time was different, and the impact is still felt 70 years later.
When Jackie Robinson took the field that day, he broke the color barrier as the first African-American to play in the MLB, and his brave and determined journey to the major leagues remains legendary.
Robinson was born in Georgia in 1919, and excelled at sports while in high school. His star really started to shine in college, however, as he became the first UCLA student to letter in four different sports. After leaving UCLA, he briefly played football for the semi-professional Honolulu Bears before joining the army during World War II.
Once he was discharged from the army in 1944, Robinson began to play baseball professionally. The sport was segregated at the time, and African-American players were relegated to the Negro Leagues. He was recruited to play for the Kansas City Monarchs, where he hustled as a shortstop for a single season before his destiny, and his place in history, was sealed.
The Brooklyn Dodgers came calling for Robinson in 1945, as he was chosen by franchise president Branch Rickey in his quest to integrate the majors. Robinson spent one season with the Montreal Royals (an all-white Dodgers farm team) and joined the team in Florida for spring training, all in preparation for his majors debut.
Robinson had to overcome severe racism, including objections from baseball executives and jeers from the crowd, both as a farm team player and as a major leaguer. Sometimes, the protests came from the players on the other bench – and sometimes, they came from his own teammates.
But when the Dodgers took Ebbets Field on Opening Day in 1947, Jackie Robinson’s presence was profoundly more than a player simply jogging out to his position on the field. He broke the color barrier, paving the way not only for himself but for all the minority players who have come after him in Major League Baseball.
Robinson played in the majors for 10 seasons, and helped his team win the World Series in 1955. He also won numerous awards, such as Rookie of the Year in 1947, MVP in 1949, and he was a six-time All-Star. Robinson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962, and his uniform number, 42, was universally retired across the MLB in 1997.
Robinson’s legacy continues to live on, and we’ll always take a step back to remember the man, and his major league debut, every year on April 15.