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Jackie Robinson

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Title: Jackie Robinson  
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Subject: Willie Mays, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1951 National League tie-breaker series, 2008 National League Division Series, The First (musical)
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Jackie Robinson

oday) with the Dodgers; while a significant amount, this was less than Robinson made in the off-season from a vaudeville tour, where he answered pre-set baseball questions, and a speaking tour of the South. Between the tours, he underwent surgery on his right ankle. Because of his off-season activities, Robinson reported to training camp 30 pounds (14 kg) overweight. He lost the weight during training camp, but dieting left him weak at the plate.[145]

In the spring of 1949, Robinson turned to Hall of Famer [146] Sisler taught Robinson to anticipate a fastball, on the theory that it is easier to subsequently adjust to a slower curveball.[146] Robinson also noted that "Sisler showed me how to stop lunging, how to check my swing until the last fraction of a second".[146] The tutelage helped Robinson raise his batting average from .296 in 1948 to .342 in 1949.[146] In addition to his improved batting average, Robinson stole 37 bases that season, was second place in the league for both doubles and triples, and registered 124 runs batted in with 122 runs scored.[82] For the performance Robinson earned the Most Valuable Player Award for the National League.[82] Baseball fans also voted Robinson as the starting second baseman for the 1949 All-Star Game—the first All-Star Game to include black players.[147][148]

That year, a song about Robinson by Buddy Johnson, "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?", reached number 13 on the charts; Count Basie recorded a famous version.[149] Ultimately, the Dodgers won the National League pennant, but lost in five games to the New York Yankees in the 1949 World Series.[141]

Summer 1949 brought an unwanted distraction for Robinson. In July, he was called to testify before the United States House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) concerning statements made that April by black athlete and actor Paul Robeson. Robinson was reluctant to testify, but he eventually agreed to do so, fearing it might negatively affect his career if he declined.[150]

A white man, standing, shakes his fist under the chin of a black man, sitting, who reacts calmly. Inset picture of a black baseball player at bat is overlaid with the caption:
Lobby card for The Jackie Robinson Story, 1950, with Minor Watson (left, playing Dodgers president Branch Rickey) and Robinson

In 1950, Robinson led the National League in double plays made by a second baseman with 133.[143] His salary that year was the highest any Dodger had been paid to that point: $35,000[151] ($343,077 in 2015 dollars[70]). He finished the year with 99 runs scored, a .328 batting average, and 12 stolen bases.[142] The year saw the release of a film biography of Robinson's life, The Jackie Robinson Story, in which Robinson played himself,[152] and actress Ruby Dee played Rachael "Rae" (Isum) Robinson.[153] The project had been previously delayed when the film's producers refused to accede to demands of two Hollywood studios that the movie include scenes of Robinson being tutored in baseball by a white man.[154] The New York Times wrote that Robinson, "doing that rare thing of playing himself in the picture's leading role, displays a calm assurance and composure that might be envied by many a Hollywood star."[155] (See entry below for 2013 Robinson bio film)

Robinson's Hollywood exploits, however, did not sit well with Dodgers co-owner Walter O'Malley, who referred to Robinson as "Rickey's prima donna".[156] In late 1950, Rickey's contract as the Dodgers' team President expired. Weary of constant disagreements with O'Malley, and with no hope of being re-appointed as President of the Dodgers, Rickey cashed out his one-quarter financial interest in the team, leaving O'Malley in full control of the franchise.[157] Rickey shortly thereafter became general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Robinson was disappointed at the turn of events and wrote a sympathetic letter to Rickey, whom he considered a father figure, stating, "Regardless of what happens to me in the future, it all can be placed on what you have done and, believe me, I appreciate it."[158][159]

Pennant races and outside interests (1951–1953)

Before the 1951 season, O'Malley reportedly offered Robinson the job of manager of the Montreal Royals, effective at the end of Robinson's playing career. O'Malley was quoted in the Montreal Standard as saying, "Jackie told me that he would be both delighted and honored to tackle this managerial post"—although reports differed as to whether a position was ever formally offered.[160][161]

During the 1951 season, Robinson led the National League in double plays made by a second baseman for the second year in a row, with 137.[143] He also kept the Dodgers in contention for the 1951 pennant. During the last game of the regular season, in the 13th inning, he had a hit to tie the game, and then won the game with a home run in the 14th. This forced a best-of-three playoff series against the crosstown rival New York Giants.[162]

A comic book cover titled
Cover of a Jackie Robinson comic book, issue #5, 1951

Despite Robinson's regular-season heroics, the Dodgers lost the pennant on Bobby Thomson's famous home run, known as the Shot Heard 'Round the World, on October 3, 1951. Overcoming his dejection, Robinson dutifully observed Thomson's feet to ensure he touched all the bases. Dodgers sportscaster Vin Scully later noted that the incident showed "how much of a competitor Robinson was."[163] He finished the season with 106 runs scored, a batting average of .335, and 25 stolen bases.[142]

Robinson had what was an average year for him in 1952.[164] He finished the year with 104 runs, a .308 batting average, and 24 stolen bases.[142] He did, however, record a career-high [165] Sportswriter Dick Young, whom Robinson had described as a "bigot", said, "If there was one flaw in Jackie, it was the common one. He believed that everything unpleasant that happened to him happened because of his blackness."[166] The 1952 season was the last year Robinson was an everyday starter at second base. Afterward, Robinson played variously at first, second, and third bases, shortstop, and in the outfield, with Jim Gilliam, another black player, taking over everyday second base duties.[142] Robinson's interests began to shift toward the prospect of managing a major league team. He had hoped to gain experience by managing in the Puerto Rican Winter League, but according to the New York Post, Commissioner Happy Chandler denied the request.[167]

In 1953, Robinson had 109 runs, a .329 batting average, and 17 steals,[142] leading the Dodgers to another National League pennant (and another Chase Park Hotel in St. Louis.[129][171]

World Championship and retirement (1954–1956)

In 1954, Robinson had 62 runs, a .311 batting average, and 7 steals. His best day at the plate was on June 17, when he hit two home runs and two doubles.[142][143] The following autumn, Robinson won his only championship when the Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series. Although the team enjoyed ultimate success, 1955 was the worst year of Robinson's individual career. He hit .256 and stole only 12 bases. The Dodgers tried Robinson in the outfield and as a third baseman, both because of his diminishing abilities and because Gilliam was established at second base.[172] Robinson, then 37 years old, missed 49 games and did not play in Game 7 of the World Series.[163] Robinson missed the game because manager Walter Alston decided to play Gilliam at second and Don Hoak at third base. That season, the Dodgers' Don Newcombe became the first black major league pitcher to win twenty games in a year.[173]

In 1956, Robinson had 61 runs, a .275 batting average, and 12 steals.[142] By then, he had begun to exhibit the effects of [175]


A black man with his arm around a black boy speaks into a microphone held by a person out of view.
Robinson and his son David (then age 11) are interviewed during the March on Washington, August 28, 1963.

Robinson's major league debut brought an end to approximately sixty years of segregation in professional baseball, known as the baseball color line.[122] After World War II, several other forces were also leading the country toward increased equality for blacks, including their accelerated migration to the North, where their political clout grew, and President Harry Truman's desegregation of the military in 1948.[176] Robinson's breaking of the baseball color line and his professional success symbolized these broader changes and demonstrated that the fight for equality was more than simply a political matter. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that he was "a legend and a symbol in his own time", and that he "challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration."[177] According to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robinson's "efforts were a monumental step in the civil-rights revolution in America ... [His] accomplishments allowed black and white Americans to be more respectful and open to one another and more appreciative of everyone's abilities."[178]

Beginning his major league career at the relatively advanced age of twenty-eight, he played only ten seasons from 1947 to 1956, all of them for the Brooklyn Dodgers.[179] During his career, the Dodgers played in six World Series, and Robinson himself played in six All-Star Games.[5] In 1999, he was posthumously named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.[180]

Robinson's career is generally considered to mark the beginning of the post–"long ball" era in baseball, in which a reliance on raw power-hitting gave way to balanced offensive strategies that used footspeed to create runs through aggressive baserunning.[181] Robinson exhibited the combination of hitting ability and speed which exemplified the new era. He scored more than 100 runs in six of his ten seasons (averaging more than 110 runs from 1947 to 1953), had a .311 career batting average, a .409 career on-base percentage, a .474 slugging percentage, and substantially more walks than strikeouts (740 to 291).[142][179][182] Robinson was one of only two players during the span of 1947–56 to accumulate at least 125 steals while registering a slugging percentage over .425 (Minnie Miñoso was the other).[183] He accumulated 197 stolen bases in total,[142] including 19 steals of home. None of the latter were double steals (in which a player stealing home is assisted by a player stealing another base at the same time).[184] Robinson has been referred to by author David Falkner as "the father of modern base-stealing".[185]

"I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me ... all I ask is that you respect me as a human being."

—Robinson, on his legacy[134]

Historical statistical analysis indicates Robinson was an outstanding fielder throughout his ten years in the major leagues and at virtually every position he played.[186] After playing his rookie season at first base,[82] Robinson spent most of his career as a second baseman.[187] He led the league in fielding among second basemen in 1950 and 1951.[188][189] Toward the end of his career, he played about 2,000 innings at third base and about 1,175 innings in the outfield, excelling at both.[186]

Assessing himself, Robinson said, "I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me ... all I ask is that you respect me as a human being."[134] Regarding Robinson's qualities on the field, Leo Durocher said, "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."[190]

Portrayals on stage, film and television

Robinson portrayed himself in the 1950 motion picture The Jackie Robinson Story.[191] Other portrayals include:

Post-baseball life

Robinson retired from baseball at age 37 on January 5, 1957.[1] Later that year, after he complained of numerous physical ailments, his doctors diagnosed him with diabetes, a disease that also afflicted his brothers.[204] Although Robinson adopted an insulin injection regimen, the state of medicine at the time could not prevent the continued deterioration of Robinson's physical condition from the disease.[205]

In his first year of eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962,[61] Robinson encouraged voters to consider only his on-field qualifications, rather than his cultural impact on the game.[206] He was elected on the first ballot, becoming the first black player inducted into the Cooperstown museum.[19]

An aging black man in front of a microphone
Robinson as ABC sports announcer in 1965

In 1965, Robinson served as an analyst for ABC's Major League Baseball Game of the Week telecasts, the first black person to do so.[207] In 1966, Robinson was hired as general manager for the short-lived Brooklyn Dodgers of the Continental Football League.[208][209] In 1972, he served as a part-time commentator on Montreal Expos telecasts.[210]

On June 4, 1972, the Dodgers retired his uniform number, 42, alongside those of [212] In 1964, he helped found, with Harlem businessman Dunbar McLaurin, Freedom National Bank—a black-owned and operated commercial bank based in Harlem.[212] He also served as the bank's first Chairman of the Board.[214] In 1970, Robinson established the Jackie Robinson Construction Company to build housing for low-income families.[212][215]

Robinson was active in politics throughout his post-baseball life. He identified himself as a political independent,[216][217] although he held conservative opinions on several issues, including the Vietnam War (he once wrote to Martin Luther King, Jr. to defend the Johnson Administration's military policy).[218] After supporting Richard Nixon in his 1960 presidential race against John F. Kennedy, Robinson later praised Kennedy effusively for his stance on civil rights.[219] Robinson was angered by conservative Republican opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He became one of six national directors for Nelson Rockefeller's unsuccessful campaign to be nominated as the Republican candidate for the 1964 presidential election.[212] After the party nominated Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona instead, Robinson left the party's convention commenting that he now had "a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler's Germany".[220] He later became special assistant for community affairs when Rockefeller was re-elected governor of New York in 1966.[212] Switching his allegiance to the Democrats, he subsequently supported Hubert Humphrey against Nixon in 1968.[175]

An aging black man in semi-profile
Color movie still featuring Robinson in the 1960s

Protesting the major leagues' ongoing lack of minority managers and central office personnel, Robinson turned down an invitation to appear in an old-timers' game at Yankee Stadium in 1969.[221] He made his final public appearance on October 15, 1972, throwing the ceremonial first pitch before Game 2 of the World Series. He gratefully accepted a plaque honoring the twenty-fifth anniversary of his MLB debut, but also commented, "I'm going to be tremendously more pleased and more proud when I look at that third base coaching line one day and see a black face managing in baseball."[222] This wish was fulfilled only after Robinson's death: following the 1974 season, the Cleveland Indians gave their managerial post to Frank Robinson (no relation), a Hall of Fame-bound player who would go on to manage three other teams. Despite the success of these two Robinsons and other black players, the number of African-American players in Major League Baseball has declined since the 1970s.[223][224]

Family life and death

After Robinson's retirement from baseball, his wife, Rachel Robinson, pursued a career in academic nursing. She became an assistant professor at the Yale School of Nursing and director of nursing at the Connecticut Mental Health Center.[225] She also served on the board of the Freedom National Bank until it closed in 1990.[226] She and Jackie had three children: Jackie Robinson Jr. (born November 18, 1946, died 1971, the year before Jackie), Sharon Robinson (born January 13, 1950), and David Robinson (born May 14, 1952).[227]

Three Robinson family gravestones are placed next to a larger family headstone with the quotation
Robinson's family gravesite in Cypress Hills Cemetery. Robinson is buried alongside his mother-in-law Zellee Isum and his son Jackie Robinson, Jr.

Robinson's eldest son, Jackie Robinson Jr., had emotional trouble during his childhood and entered special education at an early age.[228] He enrolled in the Army in search of a disciplined environment, served in the Vietnam War, and was wounded in action on November 19, 1965.[229] After his discharge, he struggled with drug problems. Robinson Jr. eventually completed the treatment program at Daytop Village in Seymour, Connecticut, and became a counselor at the institution.[230] On June 17, 1971, at the age of 24, he was killed in an automobile accident.[231][232] The experience with his son's drug addiction turned Robinson Sr. into an avid anti-drug crusader toward the end of his life.[233]

Robinson did not long outlive his son. Complications of heart disease and diabetes weakened Robinson and made him almost blind by middle age. On October 24, 1972, he died of a heart attack in his home at 95 Cascade Road in North Stamford, Connecticut, aged 53.[82][231] Robinson's funeral service on October 27, 1972, at Upper Manhattan's Riverside Church adjacent to Grant's Tomb in Morningside Heights attracted 2,500 mourners.[234] Many of his former teammates and other famous baseball players served as pallbearers, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson gave the eulogy.[234] Tens of thousands of people lined the subsequent procession route to Robinson's interment site at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, where he is buried next to his son Jackie and mother-in-law Zellee Isum.[234] Jackie Robinson Parkway also runs through the cemetery.[235]

After Robinson's death, his widow founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation, of which she remains an officer as of 2009.[82][236] On April 15, 2008, she announced that in 2010 the foundation will be opening a museum devoted to Jackie in Lower Manhattan.[237] Robinson's daughter, Sharon, became a midwife, educator, director of educational programming for MLB, and the author of two books about her father.[238] His youngest son, David, who has six children, is a coffee grower and social activist in Tanzania.[239][240]

Awards and recognition

An eight-foot blue sculpture of a stylized uniform number, 42, set atop a polished interior walkway
Memorial in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda inside Citi Field, dedicated April 15, 2009

According to a poll conducted in 1947, Robinson was the second most popular man in the country, behind Bing Crosby.[241] In 1999, he was named by Time on its list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.[242] Also in 1999, he ranked number 44 on the Sporting News list of Baseball's 100 Greatest Players[243] and was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team as the top vote-getter among second basemen.[244] Baseball writer Bill James, in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, ranked Robinson as the 32nd greatest player of all time strictly on the basis of his performance on the field, noting that he was one of the top players in the league throughout his career.[245] Robinson was among the 25 charter members of UCLA’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1984.[40] In 2002, Molefi Kete Asante included Robinson on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[246] Robinson has also been honored by the United States Postal Service on three separate postage stamps, in 1982, 1999, and 2000.[247]

The City of Pasadena has recognized Robinson in several ways. [250][251]

Jackie Robinson Stadium, with the No. 42 on the center field wall

Major League Baseball has honored Robinson many times since his death. In 1987, both the National and American League Rookie of the Year Awards were renamed the "Jackie Robinson Award" in honor of the first recipient (Robinson's Major League Rookie of the Year Award in 1947 encompassed both leagues).[252][253] On April 15, 1997, Robinson's jersey number, 42, was retired throughout Major League Baseball, the first time any jersey number had been retired throughout one of the four major American sports leagues. Under the terms of the retirement, a grandfather clause allowed the handful of players who wore number 42 to continue doing so in tribute to Robinson, until such time as they subsequently changed teams or jersey numbers.[254] This affected players such as the Mets' Butch Huskey and Boston's Mo Vaughn. The Yankees' Mariano Rivera, who retired at the end of the 2013 season,[255][256] was the last player in Major League Baseball to wear jersey number 42 on a regular basis. Since 1997, only Wayne Gretzky's number 99, retired by the NHL in 2000, has been retired league-wide.[257] There have also been calls for MLB to retire number 21 league-wide in honor of Roberto Clemente, a sentiment opposed by the Robinson family.[258] The Hispanics Across America advocacy group wants Clemente's number set aside the way the late Robinson's No. 42 was in 1997, but Sharon Robinson maintained the position that such an honor should remain in place for Jackie Robinson only.

As an exception to the retired-number policy, MLB in 2007 began honoring Robinson by allowing players to wear number 42 on April 15, Jackie Robinson Day, which is now an annual observance. For the 60th anniversary of Robinson's major league debut, MLB invited players to wear the number 42 on Jackie Robinson Day in 2007. The gesture was originally the idea of outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr., who sought Rachel Robinson's permission to wear the number.[259] After receiving her permission, Commissioner Bud Selig not only allowed Griffey to wear the number, but also extended an invitation to all major league teams to do the same.[260] Ultimately, more than 200 players wore number 42, including the entire rosters of the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Pittsburgh Pirates.[261] The tribute was continued in 2008, when, during games on April 15, all members of the Mets, Cardinals, Washington Nationals, and Tampa Bay Rays wore Robinson's number 42.[262][263] On June 25, 2008, MLB installed a new plaque for Robinson at the Baseball Hall of Fame commemorating his off-the-field impact on the game as well as his playing statistics.[206] In 2009, all uniformed personnel (players, managers, coaches, and umpires) wore number 42 on April 15.[264]

Building facade with interior window treatments reading
Planned home of the Jackie Robinson Museum and Learning Center

At the November 2006 groundbreaking for a new ballpark for the New York Mets, Citi Field, it was announced that the main entrance, modeled on the one in Brooklyn's old Ebbets Field, would be called the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. The rotunda was dedicated at the opening of Citi Field on April 16, 2009.[265] It honors Robinson with large quotations spanning the inner curve of the facade and features a large freestanding statue of his number, 42, which has become an attraction in itself. Mets owner Fred Wilpon announced that, in conjunction with Citigroup and the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Mets will create a Jackie Robinson Museum and Learning Center, located at the headquarters of the Jackie Robinson Foundation at One Hudson Square, along Canal Street in lower Manhattan. Along with the museum, scholarships will be awarded to "young people who live by and embody Jackie's ideals." The museum hopes to open by 2015.[266][267][268]

Since 2004, the Aflac National High School Baseball Player of the Year has been presented the "Jackie Robinson Award".[269]

Robinson has also been recognized outside of baseball. In December 1956, the NAACP recognized him with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress; Robinson was only the second baseball player to receive the award, after Roberto Clemente.[271] On August 20, 2007, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, announced that Robinson was inducted into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts in Sacramento.[272]

Rachel Robinson (third from left) accepts the posthumous Congressional Gold Medal for her husband from President George W. Bush in a March 2, 2005 ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda. Also pictured are Nancy Pelosi (left) and Dennis Hastert (right)

A number of buildings have been named in Robinson's honor. The UCLA Bruins baseball team plays in Jackie Robinson Stadium,[273] which, because of the efforts of Jackie's brother Mack, features a memorial statue of Robinson by sculptor Richard H. Ellis.[274] The stadium also unveiled a new mural of Robinson by Mike Sullivan on April 14, 2013. City Island Ballpark in Daytona Beach, Florida was renamed Jackie Robinson Ballpark in 1990 and a statue of Robinson with two children stands in front of the ballpark. His wife Rachel was present for the dedication on September 15. 1990.[275][276] A number of facilities at Pasadena City College (successor to PJC) are named in Robinson's honor, including Robinson Field, a football/soccer/track facility named jointly for Robinson and his brother Mack.[277] The New York Public School system has named a middle school after Robinson,[278] and Dorsey High School plays at a Los Angeles football stadium named after him.[279] In 1976, his home in Brooklyn, the Jackie Robinson House, was declared a National Historic Landmark.[280] Brooklyn residents want to turn his home into a city landmark.[281] Robinson also has an asteroid named after him, 4319 Jackierobinson.[282] In 1997, the United States Mint issued a Jackie Robinson commemorative silver dollar, and five dollar gold coin.[1] That same year, New York City renamed the Interboro Parkway in his honor.

In 2011, the U.S. placed a plaque at Robinson's Montreal home to honor the ending of segregation in baseball.[283] The house, on 8232 avenue de Gaspé near Jarry Park, was Robinson's residence when he played for the Montreal Royals during 1946. In a letter read during the ceremony, Rachel Robinson, Jackie's widow, wrote: "I remember Montreal and that house very well and have always had warm feeling for that great city. Before Jack and I moved to Montreal, we had just been through some very rough treatment in the racially biased South during spring training in Florida. In the end, Montreal was the perfect place for him to get his start. We never had a threatening or unpleasant experience there. The people were so welcoming and saw Jack as a player and as a man."[284]

See also


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External links

  • Estate of Jackie Robinson Official Website
  • Jackie Robinson Foundation Official Website
  • AIMS multimedia video of Robinson's first season
  • Jackie Robinson at the Baseball Hall of Fame
  • BlackFivesBlog: Jackie Robinson, Pro Basketball Star: Materials on Robinson's career with the Los Angeles Red Devils
  • Career statistics and player information from MLB, or ESPN, or Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube, or Baseball-Reference (Minors), or Retrosheet
  • Negro league baseball statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference (Negro leagues)
  • Courageous Characters: Photo Album of Jackie Robinson
  • Encyclopædia Britannica Online: Black History: Jackie Robinson with photographs
  • San Francisco State University: Jackie Robinson Picture Gallery
  • UCLA History Project: Track and Football Photos of Robinson
  • UCLA Baseball: Robinson Biography and Picture Gallery
  • White House Archive: Jackie Robinson Correspondence
  • FBI file on Jackie Robinson
  • Heritage Moment on Jackie Robinson about his breakthrough with the Montreal Royals
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