How Jackie Robinson Became the First Black Man to Play in the MLB

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Jackie Robinson was the first black athlete to play Major League Baseball in 1947. He was in the Brooklyn Dodgers team when he achieved this historic feat. Robinson was more than a player. He stood for the rights of black people as a civil rights activist. 

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As a result, he was part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People  (NAACP). To commemorate his legacy, the world celebrates him on April 15. Let’s learn more about him.

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Jackie Robinson’s Early Life

Spotcovery-How Jackie Robinson Became the First Black Man to Play in the MLB
Former baseball player Jackie Robinson. Source: Wikimedia licensed by public domain

Jackie Robinson was born on 31 January 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. He came from a poor background and his brother encouraged him to pursue athletics. Robinson was a standout athlete in school and played multiple sports: 

  • Football
  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Track & Field

From there, he went to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) but couldn’t finish his studies due to financial constraints. Afterwards, he began his professional baseball career with the Honolulu Bears but stopped due to World War.

He served in the Second World War as a second lieutenant, where he was arrested for fighting racial injustice. The NAACP highlighted the issue and Robinson was acquitted in court.

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Baseball Career

Jackie Robinson’s career. Video Credit: World of Baseball

Jackie Robinson started his career in the Negro Leagues because of the sport’s segregation. Whites played in a separate league from blacks. He represented the Kansas City Chiefs until the Brooklyn Dodgers president signed him. 

He first played for the White Montreal Royals of the International League, a team affiliated with the Dodgers. The president understood that Robinson would face racism and made him promise not to retaliate.

On 15 February 1947, Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and went down in history as the first black baseball player to feature in the MLB. This didn’t go down well with a lot of people including his teammates. Even though he played well, he and his family received threats. 

Some teams threatened not to play against the Dodgers, and some of the teammates also wanted to sit out. However, the team’s manager supported Robinson’s right to play and warned that he would trade out players who didn’t want to play. 

Others who supported him include: 

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Player of the Year

Robinson proved his critics wrong as he performed incredibly in his first year in the league. He made 12 home runs with .297 and won the Rookie of the Year award. In 1949, Robinson was the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the National League.

His career stats show a player who, against all odds, became the finest in his position. He had a batting average of .313, 141 home runs and 761 runs batted in.

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Winning the World Series

Jackie Robinson’s career review. Video Credit: Baseball Plus

After multiple years of helping the Dodgers win the pennant, the team finally clinched the big prize, the World Series. They played against the New York Yankees and emerged victorious in seven games.

After, he left for the New York Giants but never played for the team. Jackie Robinson announced his retirement in 1957. In 1962, he was the first African American to enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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Civil Rights Activism

Post his playing career, Jackie Robinson continued his activism, calling out the New York Giants for not allowing black players in the team. He also testified about racial discrimination in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee

Death and Remembrance

Jackie Robinson died on 24 October 1972 from a heart attack and diabetes complications. The sports world still remembers his impact. He has a park named after him, Nike released a shoe in his honor and an annual MLB event, Jackie Robinson Day.

The Brooklyn Dodgers retired jersey number 42 in his honor. The league did the same in 1997, the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic feat so no player wears the number anymore.

Jackie Robinson opened the door for many players like Hanks Aaron, Willie Mays, Larry Doby and others. His wife set up the Jackie Robinson foundation to continue his legacy and work.

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