||Born: Jan. 31, 1919 in Cairo, GA
Died: Oct. 24, 1972 in Stamford, CT
Years with Dodgers: 1947-56
Inducted into Hall of Fame: 1962
The social impact of Jackie Robinson’s inclusion into Major League Baseball in 1947 resonates as one of the civil rights movement’s most significant triumphs. For Robinson, the first African-American to have the opportunity to participate in the major leagues for the Brooklyn Dodgers, it was all about playing the game. But, he was hand-selected by President Branch Rickey and the Dodger organization (including part-owner and Vice President and General Counsel Walter O’Malley) to cross the precipitous color line. Robinson promised Rickey that he would not fight back, other than with his bat and glove, despite what teammates, competitors, fans, umpires, writers, broadcasters and hotel managers might have said or how they tried to bait him into reacting. Robinson agreed to take on this historic civil rights challenge and was uniquely qualified to succeed. When he crossed the white lines at the ballpark, Robinson tried to relax and focus on the game, not the constant catcalls. Off the field, the former UCLA four-sport star would also deal with Southern bigotry; anonymous death threats; racial slurs; sitting in the back of the bus; “no colored” served or housed here signs; and opponents who were out to injure him. Robinson, however, was bound and determined that he would perform to the highest level. That he did. In his debut season, he was named Rookie of the Year, an award which today bears his name, and he became an immediate drawing card. While some just wanted to observe the only black player in baseball, others were truly enthralled by Robinson’s daring and reckless abandon on the basepaths and in the field. Robinson electrified the ballpark as he stole home 19 times in his illustrious career. In his 10 seasons, Robinson was a six-time N.L. All-Star, he was an integral part of six N.L. Pennant-winning Dodger teams (1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956) and he won the N.L. batting title in 1949 with a .342 average. He also won the N.L. MVP Award in 1949. The versatile Robinson initially played first base for the Dodgers as a rookie, but then moved to second base for the next five years, shifted to third base and finally to the outfield. Robinson was the first African-American player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. When the Dodgers traded an aging Robinson on Dec. 13, 1956 to the New York Giants for Dick Littlefield and $35,000 cash, Robinson balked at playing for any other club, especially the rival Giants, and he vetoed the move by announcing his retirement on Jan. 5, 1957. O’Malley and Robinson maintained cordial relations after his retirement, corresponding with each other on numerous occasions. With Robinson in attendance, the Dodgers retired his No. 42 uniform in on-field ceremonies at Dodger Stadium on June 4, 1972. All of Major League Baseball saluted him in 1997 (on the 50th Anniversary of his breaking the color barrier) and permanently retired his number from the game.
On March 2, 2005, pioneer Robinson was recognized posthumously by receiving the Congressional Gold Medal during ceremonies in the rotunda of the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. President George W. Bush made the presentation to Robinson family members, including Jackie’s wife Rachel, daughter Sharon and grandson David. The U.S. Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. President Bush said of Robinson, “His electricity was unbelievable. This is a guy who inspired little seven-year-olds to dream of wearing ‘42’ and dashing for home in Brooklyn...his story was powerful then, and it is powerful today.”