April 15th is Jackie Robinson day.

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April 15th is Jackie Robinson day.

Statue of gesture given by Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop, Pee Wee Reese (Left) to Jackie Robinson (Right) that showed potential and promise for racial change.

Statue of gesture given by Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop, Pee Wee Reese (Left) to Jackie Robinson (Right) that showed potential and promise for racial change.

Dodgers Stadium photography

Statue of gesture given by Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop, Pee Wee Reese (Left) to Jackie Robinson (Right) that showed potential and promise for racial change.

Dodgers Stadium photography

Dodgers Stadium photography

Statue of gesture given by Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop, Pee Wee Reese (Left) to Jackie Robinson (Right) that showed potential and promise for racial change.

David Henshaw, Sports Editor

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Jackie Robinson Day History (VIA Biography.com)

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. The youngest of five children, He attended John Muir High School and Pasadena Junior College, where he was an excellent athlete and played four sports: football, basketball, track and baseball. He was named the region’s Most Valuable Player in baseball in 1938. Jackie continued his education at UCLA, where he became the university’s first student to win varsity letters in four sports. In 1941, despite his athletic success, Robinson was forced to leave UCLA just shy of graduation due to financial hardship. He moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he played football for the semi-professional Honolulu Bears. His season with the Bears was cut short when the United States entered into World War II. From 1942 to 1944, Robinson served as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. However he never saw combat. During boot camp at Fort Hood, Texas, Robinson was arrested and court-martialed in 1944 for refusing to give up his seat and move to the back of a segregated bus. Robinson’s excellent reputation, combined with the efforts of friends, the NAACP and various black newspapers, shed public light on the injustice. Ultimately he was acquitted of the charges and received an honorable discharge. His courage and moral objection to segregation were precursors to the impact Robinson would have in Major League Baseball. Robinson began to play baseball professionally. At the time, the sport was segregated, and African-Americans and whites played in separate leagues. Robinson began playing in the Negro Leagues, but he was soon chosen by Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to help integrate Major League Baseball.

Robinson played his first game at Ebbets Field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, making history as the first black athlete to play Major League Baseball in the 20th century. The harassment continued, however, most notably by the Philadelphia Phillies and their manager, Ben Chapman. During one infamous game, Chapman and his team shouted derogatory terms at Robinson from their dugout. Many players on opposing teams threatened not to play against the Dodgers. Even his own teammates threatened to sit out. But Dodgers manager Leo Durocher informed them that he would sooner trade them than Robinson. His loyalty to the player set the tone for the rest of Robinson’s career with the team.

Others defended Jackie Robinson’s right to play in the major leagues, including League President Ford Frick, Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler, Jewish baseball star Hank Greenberg and Dodgers shortstop and team captain Pee Wee Reese. In one incident, while fans harassed Robinson from the stands, Reese walked over and put his arm around his teammate, a gesture that has become legendary in baseball history.

Robinson succeeded in putting the prejudice and racial strife aside, and showed everyone what a talented player he was. In his first year, he batted .297 with 12 home runs and helped the Dodgers win the National League pennant. That year, Robinson led the National League in stolen bases and was selected as Rookie of the Year. He continued to wow fans and critics alike with impressive feats, such as an outstanding .342 batting average during the 1949 season. He led in stolen bases that year and earned the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. Robinson soon became a hero of the sport. In his decade-long career with the Dodgers, Robinson and his team won the National League pennant several times. Finally, in 1955, he helped them achieve the ultimate victory: winning the World Series. After failing before in four other series matchups, the Dodgers beat the New York Yankees. He helped the team win one more National League pennant the following season. In December 1956, Robinson was traded to the New York Giants, but he never played a game for the team. He retired on January 5, 1957. After that, about multiple African American baseball players joined the MLB including Hall of Famers, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Curt Flood, Frank Thomas, and Barry Bonds. After baseball, Robinson became active in business and continued his work as an activist for social change. He worked as an executive for the Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee company and restaurant chain, and helped establish the African American-owned and -controlled Freedom Bank. In 1962, Robinson was the first African-American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1972, the Dodgers retired his jersey number of 42, soon later the other 29 teams retired his jersey being the only player in Baseball history to have a retired number in all the clubs.

In his later years, Robinson continued to lobby for greater integration in sports. Jackie Robinson died from heart problems and diabetes complications on October 24, 1972, in Stamford, Connecticut. After Jackie Robinson’s death, his wife Rachel established the Jackie Robinson Foundation dedicated to honoring his life and work. The foundation helps young people in need by providing scholarships and mentoring programs. And on April 15th, 2004, 57 years after his first Major League start, the Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig with the aid of the JRF announced that April 15th would be Jackie Robinson day. Monday, April 15th, 2019 will be the 72nd anniversary of Jackie’s first start in the MLB and first step in breaking the sports color barrier. While players (7.7% African American) wear no. 42, they will also wear the Jackie Robinson Day patch and MLB 150 patch, celebrating 150 years of professional baseball, nine of those in the Jackie Robinson era. It’s also the 6th anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, with One Boston day reigning with pride today, the Red Sox will also be representing and remembering the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

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