Los Angeles, CA (BDCi Sports) – – Baseball in the United States Saturday was united in its appreciation for a very important figure historically: Jackie Robinson. On this special day, every player on every team traded their own jersey number for that of Mr. Robinson, number 42. Players of every race and from every continent wore that number while playing in Saturday’s games. It was not as important as who played well and won yesterday as it was for the meaning of the day; it was the 70th anniversary of the day that Jackie Robinson put on his Brooklyn Dodger uniform and broke major league baseball’s “color barrier”, playing as the first African American in the league’s history. April 15, 1947 wasn’t just a big moment for Baseball, it was larger. Here was a man of color playing in the most important major sport in the most powerful country in the world, dominated by white people.
The Dodger’s owner at the time, Branch Rickey, had many African American ball players to choose from, some with more fame and experience. However, Mr. Rickey selected Robinson, a 3-sport all-American from UCLA to be the symbol of the movement. Why? Jackie Robinson was no ordinary star player. He was complicated. He was smart. He was courageous. He was outspoken. He was feisty. Branch Rickey knew he needed the first African American in the big leagues to be tough and strong enough to fight the resistance from the white forces in and outside of baseball. And when the term “fight” is used here it wasn’t meant as “physical”. Mr. Rickey wanted a player who was strong enough not to fight the bigots and racists that would yell absurdly racist things at him.
Jackie quickly won the hearts of his teammates, the town of Brooklyn, New York and eventually major league baseball in its entirety. The experiment worked, and Jackie Robinson’s influence helped other African Americans in baseball, other sports and even in the greater society to obtain respect and inclusion. In the year he started with the Dodgers, he won the National League Rookie of the Year. In 1949, he won the league’s most valuable player award. And in 1955, he helped the Brooklyn Dodgers win the World Series against the infamous New York Yankees.
Life after baseball
Due to the mental and physical beating he took in the big leagues, Robinson retired after the 1956 season and worked as a hiring executive for the Chock Full O Nuts coffee company. He continued to stand for equal employment for African Americans and worked closely with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (“NAACP”) in the 1960’s. Before his death in 1972, he asked Major League Baseball to be more aggressive in hiring African Americans as managers and front office executives.
Testimonials were many around big league ball parks Saturday. Perhaps none were more representative of Robinson’s influence on sports society than the ones spoken by a legend who worked with Jackie day to day personally and another superstar who was a recipient of number 42’s impact.
“The one thing number 42 gave them (the players yesterday and today), the one thing that no one at the time could ever have done – he gave them equality, and he gave them opportunity.” Vin Scully spoke these words at a ceremony honoring the unveiling of a statue in Robinson’s playing image at Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium. Scully, a now-retired hall of fame broadcaster of the Dodgers, started broadcasting with the Dodgers in 1950 and was good friends with Jackie Robinson.
Magic Johnson, the hall-of-fame NBA basketball star and current owner of the Dodgers and President of the Los Angeles Lakers was also in attendance in the Los Angeles festivities and discussed Robinson’s mark on sports and society. Earlier in the season, Johnson said there was nothing comparable in the National Basketball Association, where his star was born, to the legacy Robinson has left baseball. “Jackie Robinson probably opened the door to a lot of those guys, too — and me,” Johnson said. “If Jackie hadn’t played for the Dodgers, I don’t think I’d be an owner of the Dodgers.”
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