By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
When the name Jackie Roosevelt Robinson comes up in present-day conversation, many things have been said and written.
As we’ve known for over seven decades, the native of Cairo, Georgia would forever change the face of baseball.
But in many ways, Jackie was and still is much more than just a pioneer or a Hall of Fame ballplayer.
He was a civil rights activist, a leading businessman in his community, and a role model in its truest sense.
There have been many things said and written about Jackie over the last few days in looking back at his historic debut over seven decades years ago and his all too short life.
Today as we celebrate the anniversary of his first game in Brooklyn, we try to shed some light on the life of Mr. Robinson.
Some of the next 42 facts you’re about read you may already know about. You will also learn some things about him that you didn’t know.
But hopefully, the next few facts will give you a better understanding of the man and his lasting legacy.
1. Born in Georgia, several prominent players past and present join Jackie as natives of the Peachtree State. Among the many players from Georgia include fellow Hall of Famers Frank Thomas and Josh Gibson, as well as current major leaguers Dexter Fowler, Lorenzo Cain and Byron Buxton.
2. A year after his birth, Jackie’s family would move to California. At John Muir High School, Robinson was a shortstop and catcher in baseball, a quarterback for football, a guard in basketball, and was also a member of both the tennis and track squads.
3. Just to show even more of Jackie’s athletic versatility, in 1936, he would win the junior boys’ singles championship in the annual Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament.
4. Before his days at UCLA, Robinson would excel on and off the field at Pasadena Junior College. He played baseball and football. In 1938, he was elected to the All-Southland Junior College baseball team and selected as the region’s MVP.
5. His athletic prowess would continue when he transferred to UCLA in 1939. As a student-athlete with the Bruins, Robinson became the school’s first four-sport letterman, playing football, basketball, track, and baseball.
6. Among some of his honors at UCLA: For two years, Jackie was the highest scorer in basketball competition in the Pacific Coast Conference (later to become the Pac-10), a national champion long jumper, an All-American football halfback, and a varsity baseball shortstop.
7. One of Jackie’s UCLA teammates, QB Kenny Washington, would prove to be a sports pioneer as well. On March 21, 1946, Washington and Woody Strode signed with the Los Angeles Rams becoming the NFL’s first modern day African-American players.
8. Robinson would eventually leave college to support his mother, just a few credits short from a bachelor’s degree. In 1941, Jackie played semi-pro football with the Los Angeles Bulldogs of the Pacific Coast League.
9. Jackie’s brother, Mack and Robinson’s early role model, was a world-class sprinter. He came in second to Jesse Owens in the 200-yard dash in the 1936 Olympics. Jackie had previously won the 1940 NCAA long-jump title. He probably would have gone to the 1940 Olympics if the war had not canceled them.
10. In 1942, Jackie was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to a segregated unit in Fort Riley, Kansas, where under the existing policy he couldn’t enter Officer’s Candidate School. After protests by several parties, including heavyweight champ Joe Louis, black men were accepted for officer training. Eventually, Robinson was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1943.
11. He held several jobs before and after his time at UCLA and the military. Robinson worked for a few months as an athletic director in the National Youth Administration, in Atascadero, California. He also coached a basketball team at what is now Houston-Tillotson College, in Austin, Texas.
12. In 1945, Robinson was signed by the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. Playing along with future Hall of Famer Satchel Paige, Jackie earned the salary of $400.00 a month.
13. Before his stint with the Monarchs, Jackie along with fellow Negro Leaguers Sam Jethro and Marv Williams were given a secret tryout by the Boston Red Sox. While many of the team’s brass were impressed, neither were signed. That season, Boston was 71-83, seventh in the American League.
14. In his lone season with K.C., Robinson hit .345 while playing most of the season at shortstop. Jackie was also a starter for the East squad in the East-West All-Star Classic, however, he went hitless in five at-bats.
15. When Jackie was officially signed on October 23, 1945, he wasn’t the only Negro Leaguer the Dodgers inked that day. Pitcher John “Needle Nose” Wright was also signed by Brooklyn as well. However, the Homestead Grays righthander only pitched briefly in the Dodgers’ organization. He would eventually return to the Negro Leagues in 1947.
16. At the time of Robinson’s signing, there was plenty of verbal opposition all around the baseball world. J. Alvin Gardner, president of the Texas League told the Sporting News’, “You’ll never see any Negro players on teams in organized ball in the South, as long as the Jim Crow laws are in force”.
17. Robinson would begin his Dodger career playing for the Montreal Royals, Brooklyn’s top farm team. In his debut on April 18, 1946, in a crowded Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, Jackie went 4-for-5 including a three-run home run, a solid single, and two bunt singles. He also stole two bases as the Royals pummeled the hometown Giants 14 -1.
18. On the season, Robinson primarily played second base for Montreal. He finished the year with an International League-leading .349 and stole 40 bases. Jackie also helped lead the Royals to the Little World Series championship by defeating the Louisville Colonels.
19. To commemorate Robinson’s brief time in Canada, a statue of Jackie was erected outside of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium during the 1976 Summer Olympics. A year later, the stadium would become the new home of the National League’s Montreal Expos.
20. When Robinson attended spring training in 1947, he was told he’d have to learn a new position — first base. He had spent the majority of his professional career at either second base or shortstop.
21. During the 1946 season, ”Big Ed” Stevens and Howie “Stretch” Schultz platooned at first for the Dodgers with little success. In 105 games, Stevens hit .242 with 10 homers and 60 RBI. Schultz hit .253 in 90 games with three homers and 27 RBI.
22. When Jackie made his much-anticipated debut on April 15, 1947, he went hitless (0-for-3) with a walk. However, he would score the game-winning run for Brooklyn on Pete Reiser’s seventh-inning double. The Dodgers defeated the Boston Braves and Johnny Sain, 5-3.
23. Said the New York Times of Jackie’s debut: “The muscular Negro minds his own business and shrewdly makes no effort to push himself. He speaks quietly and intelligently when spoken to and already has made a strong impression.”
24. Two days after his debut, Jackie gets his first major league hit — to no one’s surprise, a bunt single — off Boston’s Glenn Elliott. Robinson will bunt 42 times, collecting 19 hits, during the year. Two games later on April 18th, Jackie connected for his first career homer off the Giants’ Dave Koslo.
25. After going through a 0-for-20 stretch in April, Jackie would rebound with two separate hitting streaks throughout the 1947 season. Beginning on May 3, Robinson would hit in 14 straight games. Later in June, Jackie had a 21-game streak, the longest of his career.
26. In 1947, Jackie earned the major-league minimum salary of $5,000, which was standard for many rookies at the time. That year, he played in 151 games, hit .297, led the National League in stolen bases and won the first-ever Rookie Of The Year award. Ironically in 1987, Major League Baseball renamed the Rookie Of The Year Award, the Jackie Robinson Award in his honor.
27. During the winter of 1947, the Dodgers dealt second baseman Eddie Stanky to the Braves, to help clear up their infield crowding. A young Gil Hodges was then given the first base job, and Jackie was inserted at second base.
28. In 1949, Jackie would have his greatest statistical season and won the NL’s MVP award. Robinson led the league in batting with a .342 clip and finished in the top three in runs (122), hits (203), doubles, triples, RBI (124), OBP, and slugging (.528). He paced the league in steals (37) and helped lead the Dodgers to the pennant.
29. Robinson’s 37 steals in 1949 not only led the majors, but it was also the highest in the National League in 19 years. He stole home 19 times in his career, the most since World War I, and in 1955 (at age 36) became one of only 12 players to steal home in the World Series.
30. In 1949, Jackie was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee to rebut Paul Robeson’s contention that American blacks would not fight against the Soviet Union because of racism at home. Ironically, Robeson had once addressed Commissioner Landis and the team owners on the need for integration in the majors. Robinson later felt apologetic about his being used against Robeson, and said, “I would reject such an invitation if offered now.”
31. A year after winning the NL MVP, the Dodgers reward Robinson by signing him to a contract for $35,000. At the time, the deal reportedly makes Jackie the highest paid Brooklyn player in history.
32. In November of 1952 on a local TV station, Robinson charges that the New York Yankee management is racist for its failure to bring up a black player. Yanks’ GM George Weiss would deny the allegations. Three years later, another former Negro Leaguer — Elston Howard — would become the first black to play for the Yankees.
33. On April 23, 1954, in a game against the Pirates, Robinson steals second base, third base, then swipes home on the front end of a triple steal with Gil Hodges and Sandy Amoros At the time, Jackie was the first National Leaguer to steal his way around the bases in 26 years.
34. On December 13, 1956, the Dodgers traded Robinson to the New York Giants for pitcher Dick Littlefield and $30,000 cash. Rather than play for the rival Giants, Jackie refused to report to his new team and decided to retire.
35. Jackie would become a vice president in the Chock Full O’Nuts restaurant chain. He also worked with the Harlem YMCA and was made chairman of the board of the Freedom National Bank. He later became the head of a construction company that built housing for black families and was involved in other ventures that stimulated black participation within the business world.
36. Robinson also remained very busy in other ventures. He wrote several autobiographical works, had a weekly newspaper column and radio show, and after his death was the subject of a Broadway musical, “The First”.
37. In 1962, Jackie along with pitcher Bob Feller and outfielder Edd Roush were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Both Robinson and Feller made it in their first year of eligibility.
38. In March of 1965, Robinson is signed as a member of the ABC-TV baseball broadcast team, becoming the first black to receive a network position broadcasting baseball. ABC provides the first-ever nationwide baseball coverage with weekly Saturday broadcasts on a regional basis.
39. When Jackie eventually retired from baseball and with their children in school, Rachel Robinson would return to school and earned a masters degree in nursing from New York University. She later taught at Yale University’s School of Nursing. Ms. Robinson had earned a nursing degree at UCLA.
40. In his last public appearance, at the 1972 World Series, Robinson was still calling for Major League Baseball to hire a black manager. Since his death, there have been 16 black managers in MLB: Frank Robinson, Larry Doby, Maury Wills, Dusty Baker, Cito Gaston, Don Baylor, Hal McCrae, Davey Lopes, Lloyd McClendon, Willie Randolph, Ron Washington, Jerry Manuel, Cecil Cooper, Bo Porter, Dave Martinez, and Dave Roberts.
41. The legendary actress Ruby Dee would portray significant roles in the telling of Jackie’s life story. In the 1950 movie “The Jackie Robinson Movie”, Ms. Dee played his wife, Rachel Robinson. Four decades later, she portrayed Jackie’s mother in the 1990 TV movie, “The Court Martial of Jackie Robinson”.
42. Jackie’s number 42 was officially retired by the Dodgers on June 4, 1972. The last Dodger to wear No. 42 was right-handed pitcher Ray Lamb, who pitched in 10 games for L.A. in 1969.
Sources: The Baseball Library, Baseball-Reference.com, The Complete History of Baseball’s Negro Leagues, MLB.com, The Baseball Hall of Fame, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, The Baseball Page, The Sporting News’, The Jackie Robinson Foundation, The Negro League Baseball Players Association, the Los Angeles Dodgers, UCLA, The Diamond Angle, Baseball-Almanac.com, and ESPN.com.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.