The Hollywood buzz has started for the new movie 42, a look into the life of American baseball player Jackie Robinson — the first African American to play in Major League Baseball. And in just a few days, April 15 will mark the 64th anniversary of Jackie’s first MLB game at Ebbets Field as a Brooklyn Dodger, breaking the color barrier.
Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, GA, but he lived most of his childhood in Pasadena, CA, at 121 Pepper Street. At an early age, Jackie was a competitive athlete, achieving 4-letterman status in football, basketball, baseball and track at John Muir Technical High School and later, at UCLA, where he won the NCAA broad jump title at 25′ 6 1/2 “.
In 1941, Jackie moved to Honolulu, where he played football for the semi-professional Honolulu Bears. Shortly after, he was drafted into the US Army during World War II. Jackie was stationed at Fort Riley, KS, and then Fort Hood, TX. He became a second lieutenant, but his military career took a sharp turn when he was court-martialed in connection to his objections to incidents involving racial discrimination.
After a dishonorable discharge from the military, Jackie dived back into the sports, accepting a position as athletic director and basketball coach at Samuel Huston College in Austin, TX, and playing one season in the Negro Baseball League for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945. It was this same year that Branch Rickey, club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, scouted the Negro leagues for a possible addition to the Dodgers. Branch chose Jackie and soon after, in 1946, the young player was signed to play for the all-white Montreal Royals of the Class AAA International League, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The very next year Jackie was suited up as a Dodger, becoming the first African-American player since the league’s inception in 1875 to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier. African-American fans flocked to see the Dodgers play, finding, for the first time, a chance to root for more than just Negro league teams.
Although he struggled with racial discrimination throughout his career (he routinely faced racial slurs shouted from the stands), Jackie would be named the National League Rookie of the Year (1947) and National League’s Most Valuable Player of the Year (1949). He would also win the 1949 batting title, with a .342 average — a great percentage for any pro baseball player.
During the mid-1950s, Jackie’s batting average was on the decline, but oddly enough, it was one of the “highs” in his career. In 1955, the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees to clinch the 1955 World Series championship. In all, Jackie had a career batting average of .311 with the Dodgers, and in 1962, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, becoming the first African-American player to achieve such distinction.
After his baseball career, Jackie starred as himself in The Jackie Robinson Story, continued as a civil rights activist, and took a new career as a successful businessman and sports commentator. In addition to these career achievements and changes, he remained a devoted husband to his wife Rachel and a hands-on father to his 3 children.
In 1972, Jackie Robinson died of a heart attack in Stamford, CT, but his legacy lives on through the Jackie Robinson Foundation and at popular attractions, including the Jackie Robinson Field in Pasadena’s Brookside Park, the Jackie Robinson Stadium at UCLA and the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, located at the main entrance to the New York Mets Citi Field.
In 1997, 9-foot busts were erected across from Pasadena City Hall to commemorate Jackie and his older brother Matthew “Mack” Robinson, who set the world record for broad jump and won a silver medal at the 1936 Olympic Summer Games. And today, every few years, MLB players remember Jackie Robinson in special ceremonies and by wearing his jersey number 42, which was retired from Major League Baseball on April 15, 1997.
Plans are underway to open a Jackie Robinson Museum and Learning Center at One Hudson Square in Manhattan in 2015.