On Wednesday major league baseball paid tribute to one of the greatest men even to don a uniform. Jackie Robinson, the man who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, persevered despite racism, death threats and extremely vocal scorn from a large portion of the country back before the time of racial equality in this country (hard to believe it was less than 65 years ago). In my report today I’ll touch on Robinson’s playing career and his lasting legacy.
After a superb college career at UCLA that included being the first athlete in school history to letter in four sports (baseball, basketball, football and track), Robinson entered the U.S. Army. He then played a year of baseball in the Negro Leagues, before Branch Rickey of the Dodgers brought him into the fold in major league baseball.
Robinson proceeded to dazzle the American public with talent that made the color of his skin irrelevant. In his first season he won the Rookie of the Year award hitting .297 with 12 home runs and 48 RBI while scoring 125 runs and swiping 29 bags. He finished fifth in the NL MVP race. In year two Robinson was equally solid hitting .296-12-85-108-22, but it was his third season in which he really broke out as he produced one of the best seasons ever by a second baseman.
In 1949, at the rather advanced age of 30 for a third year player, Robinson won the NL MVP thanks to hitting .342, mark that lead the league. Robinson also led the league with 37 steals as he went deep 16 times at the dish. Robinson also scored 122 times and knocked in 124 runs with a .960 OPS in a truly majestic season.
All told, Robinson was named to the All-Star team six times, won the Rookie of the Year, one MVP award and finished in the top-16 in NL MVP voting eight times in just 10 major league seasons. His career was all too brief given his late start, but his impact will never be forgotten.
And that leads to my comment on his legacy. Robinson’s work on the field was superb, but it is what he meant to social change and the growth of America that will never be forgotten. There may have been better players of non-European decent than Robinson who graced the baseball diamonds of this land prior to 1947, but he was the perfect man to break the color barrier. Robinson was a man of integrity and honor, and obviously his ability to concentrate despite the death threats and drama that surrounded him on a daily basis must have been acute.
As a result, this great man was honored on Wednesday as every player on every major league team wore Robinson’s number of 42. While I fully support the belief that this man should be remembered every year, I think MLB should refine how it goes about doing it. To this end, I have read elsewhere an idea I support. Instead of having every player where the number, why not let each team vote one player to where the number on the anniversary of the day Robinson broke the color barrier? That way not only would Robinson be honored, but each team could also honor one of its players as well. I mean I’m all for Rich Aurilia wearing #42, but wouldn’t it have more meaning if it was on the back of Fred Lewis? In addition to the honor on the field, perhaps major league baseball could then gather all thirty team’s #42 jerseys and have a huge auction to the public of the game worn jerseys to raise money for the Jackie Robinson Foundation. To me, that would be an even more befitting honor for the man who finally proved to everyone that it’s not about the color of your skin that matters; it’s about the heart that beats beneath it.
Cheers to you, Mr. Robinson, wherever you are.
Tags: Jackie Robinson