Sunday, January 31, 2010

A True American Pioneer, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson Was Born on the 31st Day of January, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia

Black Buzz Sports News
Special Report
Stamford, CT
January 31, 2010

Jack Roosevelt Robinson
Born: January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia
Died: October 24, 1972 in Stamford, Conn.
Debut: 1947 Pos: 2B
H: 5'11" W: 204 B: R T: R

>> Visit the Jackie Robinson biography on Baseball Almanac for complete statistics.

Few can know what it must have felt like for Jackie Robinson to play his first game in Major League Baseball. Thanks to Robinson, countless other players to follow him didn't have to find out.

Throughout history, baseball has been in a number of positions to affect social change in dramatic ways. In 1947, baseball began something it would take years for the rest of the nation to catch up to -- integration.

Jackie Robinson was born in 1919 in the rural South. Less than six months after Jackie's arrival, his father left the family never to return. Robinson's mother packed up her five children and moved to California in 1920.

Robinson attended Pasadena Junior College where his athletic skills were showcased. He gained entrance into UCLA and became the first athlete to ever letter in four sports -- baseball, basketball, track and football. He also developed a reputation as unwilling to allow anyone to insult him or his race.

He was drafted into the Army following the Pearl Harbor incident only to find himself facing another situation involving his skin color. Robinson faced court-martial over an incident involving himself and a white officer. In the end, all charges against Robinson were dismissed. On Nov. 28, 1944, he was released from the Army because of a football injury.

He found his way to baseball the next year, playing for the Kansas Cty Monarchs. Jackson was reputed to have not fit in with the harder-living members of his team. However, he played well on the field. In his only season with the team, Robinson hit .387 with 5 HR, 23 RBI and 13 stolen bases.

In 1945, an event happened that would set the course for Jackson's historic moment. Happy Chandler succeeded the late Kenesaw Mountain Landis as baseball commissioner. Chandler, when asked about African-Americans in the game, said that if black soldiers could fight and die in the war, then they could play baseball at home.

Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey saw an opportunity. Under the guise of fielding his own Negro League team, Rickey began to scout talented black athletes. He was looking for someone who would be able to play but would also be able to withstand the racial backlash that would undoubtedly follow.

As a result, Rickey found Robinson. The two had a conversation in 1945 with Rickey telling Robinson he was looking for a player with the courage not to fight against what was happening to him on the field. Robinson agreed,

In 1946, Robinson became a member of the Montreal Royals, the top team in the Dodgers' farm system. Robinson made a strong case for playing in the majors by hitting .349 with 113 runs scored to lead the International League and stealing 40 bases driving in 66 runs.

On April 15, 1947, Robinson stepped on the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He didn't get a hit in his first game, but he scored the game's winning run. He played the season at first base (the only position open that year in the Dodgers' lineup) and faced incredible racism and odds. Robinson hit .297 with 12 home runs, 48 RBI and a league-leading 29 stolen bases. He was named baseball's first-ever rookie of the year.

Rickey told Robinson the agreement not to fight was over at the start of the 1949 season, giving Robinson a chance to fight for his rights and make statements against racism. Robinson had one of his best seasons ever, hitting .342 with 16 home runs, 124 RBI and 37 SB. He was named National League MVP honor.

In World Series play (1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956), Robinson collected 32 hits with 2 home runs, 12 RBI and 6 stolen bases.

After a decade in Brooklyn, he was traded to the Giants in 1956. Robinson decided to retire from the game a month later. After working in business and politics, Robinson died of a heart attack in October 1972 at the age of 53.

Robinson was inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame in 1962. Major League Baseball honored Robinson in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of his first game. His number was retired on all teams (although players wearing the number at the time are allowed to keep it until they retire.) He was also named the baseball's All-Century Team in 2000.

Sources: The Negro Leagues Book, ESPN Classic, Baseball Encyclopedia,

These are a few lines from Blogger Black Buzz's poem titled "Man Could They Play That Game" which appears in the Crossing Limits Anthology.

I remember seeing the Grays and
Monarchs play at Forbes Field
for those great men also had dreams
although many were killed.
Were they not the true boys of summer
playing that game,
and since Jackie and Larry came on the scene
the national pastime
has never been the same.
They were the ship, all else the sea
for they made all of our lives
a little more joyful and free.

By: Ronald B. Saunders,1993

*Through the relentlessness of Jackie Robinson's efforts and the courage of Branch Rickey Sr.,baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler thousands of Afro-Americans, Afro Cubans , Afro Dominicans, Afro Puerto Ricans and other ball players in the African Diaspora are playing the game of baseball in the Major Leagues of today.
Whenever the Dodgers would come to Pittsburgh my grandfather would take my brother and I to Forbes Field to watch Jackie's exploits against the hapless Pirates. I watched Jackie steal home against the Pirates in 1947 and 1954. When we rooted for Jackie and the Dodgers our family was called names and pelted with foreign objects by cowards who would never confront us to our face. All the African American families in Pittsburgh were staunch Dodgers fans or they rooted for the New York Giants. Although the Pittsburgh fans were not as abusive to Jackie as the fans in Philadelphia, St Louis, or Cincinnati he was called every type of racial slur and epithet in the book for years in Pittsburgh. Many of the white male Pittsburgh fans worked in the various Steel Mills with Black men.And their were many physical confrontations between Black men and White men in said Mills on the South Side and Hazlewood over Jackie's entry into the Major Leagues. My grandfather and uncles worked for J & L Steel Mills on the South Side.
The Pittsburgh Pirates finally integrated their team with Curtis Roberts in 1954 and he suffered all kinds of abuse from his teammates and fans.
The Jim Crow environment in Pittsburgh definitely affected Curtis Roberts play and the Pirates eventually farmed him out to the minors without giving Mr. Roberts and equal opportunity to succeed.
The great Roberto Clemente came up to the Pirates in 1955 and he became one of the greatest players in Major League baseball history.
When Clemente first came up to the Pirates he lived on Iowa Street and Avalon Street in the Upper Hill District referred to as "Sugar Top".
Clemente used to date a friend of mine Janis Harvey , who also lived on Iowa street and her father was the pastor of a large church in the Hill District.

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