“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”


By Glen Sparks

Jackie Robinson made his major-league debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. He went 0-for-3, a modest start. He also changed baseball and America in that game against the Boston Braves. Learn a little bit more about the amazing life of this amazing man:

  • Born Jan. 31, 1919, in Cairo, Ga., Jack Roosevelt Robinson grew up in Pasadena, Calif. His middle name was in honor of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, who died 25 days before Robinson was born.
  • Robinson starred in sports at John Muir High School in Pasadena. He lettered in football, basketball, baseball and track. He also won the junior boys singles championship at the annual Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament in 1936.
  • Following a standout two-year career at Pasadena Junior College, Robinson transferred to UCLA. Like he did at Muir, Robinson earned varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball and track with the Bruins. He hit .097 in his one season on the UCLA baseball squad.
  • Robinson’s teammates on the UCLA football team included Woody Strode and Kenny Washington, two of the first African-American players of the modern era to sign contracts with an NFL team. Both signed with the Los Angeles Rams.
  • Robinson, winner of the long-jump competition at the 1940 NCAA Men’s Track and Field Championships, played semi-pro football with the Honolulu Bears and Los Angeles Bulldogs of the Pacific Coast Football League.
  • Drafted in 1942, Jackie Robinson served in World War II as a second lieutenant. He was court-martialed after refusing an order from the driver to sit in the back of the bus in Texas. A panel of nine white officers acquitted him.
  • While serving as athletic director and men’s basketball coach at Sam Huston College (now, Huston-Tillitson University) in Austin, Texas, Robinson received a letter from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues. The team wanted to sign the former .097 college hitter. Robinson began playing for $400 a month. He batted .387 in 1945, hit five homers and stole 13 bases in 47 games.
  • Branch Rickey began scouting for African-American players in 1945. The announcement of Robinson’s signing with Brooklyn came Oct. 23, 1945. Soon after, Jackie reported to the Montreal Royals of the International League. The Sporting News, the so-called bible of Baseball, did not predict big things: “The waters of competition in the International League will flood far over his head.”5
  • Robinson made his major-league debut on April 15, 1947. He went 0-for-3 and changed the game and America. The 28-year-old went on to hit 12 home runs, drove in 48 and batted .297 in his first campaign. He also led the National League with 29 stolen bases. Baseball writers voted him the N.L. Rookie of the Year.
  • A key part of the fabled Boys of Summer squads in Brooklyn (Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, etc.), No. 42 won N.L. MVP honors in 1949. He hit a league-leading .342 with 124 RBI and scored 122 runs. He collected 203 hits and topped the senior circuit in stolen bases for a second time (37).
  • Over a 10-year career, Robinson batted a robust .311 with an impressive .409 on-base percentage. He hit 137 home runs and drove in 734. The talented base thief retired with 197 steals. Robinson scored at least 100 runs six times and 99 runs another year.
  • Robinson finished in the top five in MVP voting four times and in the top 16 a total of eight times. Despite playing only a decade in the majors, he finished with a life-time WAR of 61.5 (baseball-reference.com), with totals over 7.0 in five seasons. He topped out at 9.7 in 1951. Three times, Robinson led the N.L. in WAR. He made six All-Star squads. Bill James rated him the 32nd greatest player of all-time in his 2003 Historical Baseball Abstract.
  • Blessed with a good eye, Robinson walked 740 times. He only struck out 291 times. Jackie crowded the plate, liked to run and was a wonder on the bases. He stole home 19 times, tied with Frankie Frisch for tops among post-World War I players. Versatile, Robinson played at least 150 games at second base (748), third base (256), first base (197) and left field (150).
  • “Give me five players like Robinson and a pitcher and I’ll beat any nine-man team in baseball.” – Brooklyn Dodgers Manager Chuck Dressen
  • Following several losses in the World Series, Brooklyn finally won it all in 1955. Robinson endured his worst year. He registered career lows in games played (105), homers (eight), RBI (36) and batting average (.256).
  • Post-retirement, Robinson worked several years as an executive at Chock full of Nuts coffee company. He also did some broadcasting on ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week and even served as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the Continental Football League in 1972.
  • The writers elected Robinson to the Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year on the ballot. Robinson had asked that voters only consider his accomplishments on the field.
  • Off the field, the retired player helped start a commercial bank in Harlem and founded the Jackie Robinson Construction Co. to build housing for low-income families. He spoke out on civil rights issues as a political independent.
  • Afflicted with diabetes, Robinson died of a heart attack on Oct. 24, 1972, at the age of 53. His funeral service three days later at Riverside Church in New York City attracted 2,500 mourners.
  • Baseball retired Robinson’s No. 42 on April 15, 1997. The New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera was the last player to wear the number. Rivera retire at the end of the 2013 season.
  • “Every time I look at my pocketbook, I see Jackie Robinson. – Willie Mays
  • “He struck a mighty blow for equality, freedom and the American way of life. Jackie Robinson was a good citizen, a great man, and a true American champion.” – President Ronald Reagan
  • “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson

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