“There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free” -Jackie Robinson
In a time of turmoil, fear, segregation, and hate births a story of hope, enlightenment, courage, and faith. As I write this article my body chills and my eyes water because Jackie Robinson’s story is one that has stolen all of our hearts. What this man had to go through is unimaginable to myself. To fight a war against the human spirit and mind is probably one of the most intense battles that any person has to go through. Jackie’s strong conviction and superb athletic ability broke the color barrier when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers back in 1947.
Perhaps it was his mother, Mallie Robinson who raised Jackie and four other children, that instilled in this man the fire to work hard and take what you deserve. After Jackie’s father left his mother, they moved to Pasadena, California. In 1941 at UCLA, Jackie became the first athlete to earn Varsity letters in all 4 sports: Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Track. Hurdles on the track wasn’t the only obstacle that Jackie faced. Due to financial reasons he had to drop out of being a Bruin and was later drafted into the U.S. Army. Unfortunately for Jackie the Army wasn’t as supportive as most would think. Refusing to sit in the back of a segregated military bus Jackie was court-martialed, acquitted and was honorably discharged from the Army. I wonder how it feels to be the human that refused to let people sit together because of the color of their skin? How does that person feel today? Are they sorrowful? Embarrassed? To discount someones worth by the way they look is disgusting. It is sad to say but even though we have overcome some of those road blocks there is still discrimination in todays world. For those people I pray they learn and change.
After playing in the Negro Baseball league for the Kansas City Monarchs, and then with Minor Leagues Montreal Royals, the greatest event took place. Branch Rickey, the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time, took what most would see as the biggest leap of faith and asked Jackie to join the team. What’s interesting is that Rickey saw Jackie for being a great player and knew that he and Jackie would be facing challenges. Rickey still took the risk because he believed in Jackie. Since 1889 when Moses Fleetwood Walker was in the Major leagues catching for the Toledo Blue Stockings, there had not been an African American player in Major League Baseball. On April 15th 1947, Jackie put on Dodger blue and took the field. Later this year he won the coveted Rookie of the Year Award leading the league in 29 steals and .297 average. Then in 1949, Jackie impressed the league once again with being crowned the NL’s MVP of the year with a batting average of .342 and 37 stolen bases. These feats are not easy to make, but Jackie proved that he had the talent to outperform these other players. And he did that fighting civil rights battles on the field and off. Imagine coming off a great game and not being able to celebrate completely because people are spitting at you or calling you the most outrageous slurs you have never wanted to hear? It was not easy for Jackie but he paved the road for many to enjoy in the same success he did.
With Robinson on the team the Dodgers won 6 pennants in his 10 seasons. In 1956 Jackie was traded to the New York Giants for $30,000. But in the Spring training the following year Jackie announced his retirement at the age of 37. Started as a Dodger and ended as one. I am so glad he declined that offer for he closes his career in what could be called the greatest close in the history of baseball. In a quote by Robinson he says, “Baseball is like a poker game. Nobody wants to quit when he’s losing; nobody wants you to quit when you’re ahead.” For once, someone that took his own advice.
I was inspired to write this article because on July 23rd of 1962, Jackie Robinson becomes the first African American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and 51 years later he continues to instill emotion in all of us. In an interview with Larry Upton, Jackie talks about his role in Major League Baseball. He says, “He hopes that his 1947 is seen as the year that he saved baseball”. When asked by Upton if he would be interested to see an All-black team, Robinson rebuttals that he doesn’t wish to see that. Stating that he doesn’t want to see baseball go backwards. I agree with Jackie. The fight for desegregation isn’t so that African Americans, Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese, and so on to have their own team, its a fight to come together as one. We are all the same. We are human. Six days after that radio interview Jackie Robinson died on October 24th, 1972.
Through tears, anger, sadness, and joy I write about a man that has done things that most people could even stomach. Many Dodgers from his time like Pee Wee and Snider said that they couldn’t have done what Jackie did. May he always be the man that we look to when we talk about bravery, courage, and the will to never give up. The number 42 will always been in our hearts. Let the story of Robinson be an example of how the human heart can overcome any adversity.