MLB Honors a Legend

April 16, 2009 |

Major League Baseball is very traditional. It honors those that have made the game great and looks down on those that cheated their way to the top. While today’s players are considered heroes in the eyes of young kids across the nation, some of them may not realize how older players helped shape and mold the league into what it is today. One of these men, Jackie Robinson, is considered by many to be one of the greatest to play the extravagant game that is baseball. He truly paved the way for those who felt they could never accomplish anything due to their racial ethnicity. Of course, like others, he didn’t start at the top because he had to climb to get there.

Like those who dare to fulfill the dream of playing at the highest level, Jackie Robinson started out small. To begin his illustrious career, Robinson became a member of the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs, where he had an average of .387 to go with five home runs and thirteen stolen bases. After one year, he signed with the International League’s Montreal Royals, where he batted .349 and had a fielding percentage of .985. Although he was one step closer to his dream of playing in the Major Leagues, he faced his first set of problems while the team was in the state of Florida for Spring Training. One case of this occurred where the police chief of Sanford, FL, threatened to bring the game to a halt if Robinson did not leave the field. It’s also important to note here that he became the first African-American player to play for a minor league team and against a Major League team during this time. The following season, Robinson was ready to make his big splash in the Major Leagues.

Jackie Robinson made his debut in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, becoming the first player to break baseball’s color barrier in approximately 60 years. While he faced numerous threats during his first season, the Dodgers stood behind him 100%. At the end of the season, his .297 average, 12 home runs and 29 steals resulted in him winning the first ever Rookie of the Year award. As his career progressed on, Robinson continued to prove himself on the field to his doubters. By 1949, he won the N.L. MVP Award with an average of .342 and 37 steals alongside his first pennant with the Dodgers. His great performance on the diamond led to the team paying $35,000 for his services, the highest paid at that point by the Brooklyn Dodgers, and his own biographical film where he played himself. By 1955, he finally won his first and only World Series championship as the Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in seven games, even though this was the worst year of his career statistically. All in all, Robinson played ten seasons with the Dodgers, finishing with a career average of .311, 137 home runs, 734 runs batted in, a .409 on-base percentage, and a slugging percentage of .474. In due time, Robinson would soon receive the recognition he rightfully deserved.

After his career ended, Jackie Robinson became the first ever African-American player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility. His number 42 was retired by the Dodgers in 1972 alongside Sandy Koufax and Roy Campanella. To go along with this recognition, he was elected to MLB’s All-Century Team in 1999 and had his number retired by the League on April 15, 1997, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his breaking the sport’s color barrier. Since the retirement ceremony, the number can no longer be issued to any player, but others, like New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera and former Baltimore Orioles catcher Lenny Webster, were allowed to continue wearing the number since they received it beforehand. Also, since 2004, Major League Baseball has observed Jackie Robinson Day to celebrate what he has accomplished in the sport. While some players have worn the number 42 as a way of showing respect to Robinson on this day, 2009’s celebration was a little bit different. This year, every single player, coach and umpire wore the number as a sign of league support and unification for the day intended to glorify this great man’s achievements. Even Orioles outfielder Adam Jones got in on the act by wearing special cleats with the number on the back of them. These acts clearly show that this great man left a huge impact on this sport and that his legacy will live on until the end of time. So, the next time young kids think about their heroes, they should consider Jackie Robinson and what he did that made today’s game and players much more prevalent. Thank you for your perseverance and hope for better things, Mr. Robinson. You are a true legend in this game.