Yesterday – April 15 – marked the 64th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by making his debut into Major League Baseball. An infielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he stood up for his rights and the rights of all people of color despite the difficulties he would face for it.
When he came up to bat catchers would spit on his cleats. Pitchers often threw at his head or his legs. He received countless hate mail and even death threats. Some of the death threats were very specific. A man once wrote to Jackie that he was going to shoot him during the game on a certain day. Jackie told his teammates before the game that he understood if they didn’t want to sit near him in the dugout for fear of a bad shot hitting them by mistake. Regardless of all of these things – Jackie played ball. And he played it well.
Jackie’s father, not a man of fidelity, split when he was an infant, leaving his mother to single-handedly raise her four kids. He excelled as an adolescent in football, basketball and track in addition to baseball. He spent some time in the army and was court martialed for refusing to sit in the back of the bus. (Charges were eventually dropped and he was honorably discharged.) He then went on to play in the Negro League and eventually – for the Dodgers.
Jackie was named Rookie of the Year and later won MVP awards as well. Martin Luther King, Jr. has credited Jackie Robinson with starting the civil rights movement as his debut in baseball marked the first major integration of blacks and whites. He accomplished so much and has earned the undying respect of people nationwide for decades, and that respect will likely carry forward for who knows how long.
Yesterday every player in baseball wore number 42 on their backs to pay tribute to the great Jackie Robinson. His number has been retired league wide (Mariano Rivera was grandfathered in and still wears 42 today) and every year we celebrate the many things that one brave man accomplished.
Thank you Jackie Robinson. Your courage and talents changed baseball, and America, forever.