By the 1940’s professional baseball had been being played for 80 years, and as many new organizations go, there were many changes in the early years, from the National Association of Base Ball Players, to the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players to the National League, to the American League, and eventually to them combining into Major League Baseball. Obviously with all of these changes, there was plenty of debate on the way the game should be played and the rules that governed America’s game. One thing however never changed throughout the first 80 years of professional baseball, it was only to be played by white men, this fact would change because of the desires and perseverance of one Jackie Robinson.
After being born in Georgia in 1919, going to college in California and being discharged from the army in 1944, Jackie Robinson started his professional baseball career in the Negro Leagues. This stint in his baseball career was short lived however, as a man by the name of Branch Rickey would change Robinson’s life forever, and have a severe impact on the future of professional baseball. Rickey was the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, a team in Major League Baseball. The Dodger’s president was impressed with the resume, acumen and skills of Robinson and thought he was the best person to help his team get better, while simultaneously starting to integrate baseball. When asked to burst past the powerful yet unwritten color line, Robinson not only accepted, but also agreed to the condition set forth by Rickey: that he not respond to the abuse he was bound to face.
Robinson spent his first season in the Dodgers organization playing for the Montreal Royals, a farm system team that was all-white. The infielder was tested with insults and racial slurs from fans and even teammates, but sticking to his deal with Dickey, he did not fight back against the racism. Instead, he spent the 1946 season dominating the International League, hitting .349 and making very few errors in the field. On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American baseball player in the MLB. It was not an easy road for Robinson who was berated by fans and opposing teams, had opposing teams and teammates threaten to not play if Robinson was, and felt a constant threat of racism. It was people such as Dickey, team captain Pee Wee Reese and Dodgers manager Leo Durocher who told players threatening to not play that he would rather trade them than Robinson that made things bearable for Robinson.
Jackie Robinson was a successful baseball player. He was awarded with the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards at separate points throughout his 10 year major league career, but it was the way that he conducted himself in the face of adversity, and showed a level of courage and perseverance that very few others could that make him the hero that he is today. Jackie Robinson retired from baseball in 1957 to pursue a life in political activism and business. The former Dodger was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, passed away from heart disease in Stamford, Connecticut in 1972, and in 2012, the number 42 was retired league wide, never to be worn again because it represented the legacy that is Jackie Robinson.