How long did jackie robinson play baseball? Baseball player Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier as its first Black athlete. The infielder made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, and went on to have a decade-long Hall of Fame career despite repeated threats and abuse from fans and opponents.
Also a vocal civil rights activist, Robinson served on the board of the NAACP and advocated for greater racial integration in sports. He died in 1972 at age 53. MLB retired Robinson’s jersey, No. 42, in 1997, and the league celebrates his legacy and accomplishments annually on Jackie Robinson Day.
Childhood and Eduction
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. The youngest of five children, he was raised in relative poverty by a single mother. His older brother, Matthew, inspired Robinson to pursue his talent and love of athletics. Matthew won a silver medal in the 200-meter dash—just behind Jesse Owens—at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
Robinson attended John Muir High School in Pasadena, California, 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 MVP in baseball in 1938.
He 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.
After moving to Honolulu, Robinson 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.
U.S. Army Service
From 1942 to 1944, Robinson served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. 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 racial segregation were precursors to the impact Robinson would have in Major League Baseball.
From the Negro Leagues to MLB
After his discharge from the Army in 1944, Robinson began to play baseball professionally. At the time, the sport was segregated, with Black and white people playing in separate leagues.
Robinson began his pro career in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs, but he was soon chosen by Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey to integrate Major League Baseball. He joined the all-white Montreal Royals, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1946. Robinson later moved to Florida to begin spring training with the Royals.
Rickey knew there would be difficult times ahead for the young athlete, so he made Robinson promise to not fight back when confronted with racism. Rickey also personally tested Robinson’s reactions to the racial slurs and insults he knew the player would endure.
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 MLB
From the beginning of his career with the Dodgers, Robinson’s will was tested. Some of his new teammates objected to having an African American on their team. People in the crowds sometimes jeered at Robinson, and he and his family received threats.
Despite the racial abuse, particularly at away games, Robinson had an outstanding start with the Royals, leading the International League with a .349 batting average and .985 fielding percentage.
His successful year in the minors led to his promotion to the Dodgers. The harassment continued in the majors, however, most notably from 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 some of Robinson’s 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 Robinson’s right to play in the major leagues, including National League President Ford Frick, Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler, Jewish baseball star Hank Greenberg, as well as 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.
Rookie of the Year
Robinson succeeded in putting the prejudice and racial strife aside and showed everyone what a talented player he was. Although he predominantly played second base, Robinson was versatile enough to be positioned all over the infield. 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 MVP Award.
Robinson soon became a hero of the sport, even among former critics, and was the subject of the popular song, “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” His success in the major leagues opened the door for other Black players, such as Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron.
Jackie Robinson’s Stats
World Series Win and Retirement
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 in seven games. Robinson 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. Five years later, in 1962, Robinson became the first African American to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
After baseball, Robinson became active in business and continued his work as an activist. He worked as an executive for the Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee company and restaurant chain and helped establish Black-owned Freedom Bank.
Wife and Kids
In the early 1940s, Robinson met nurse-in-training Rachel Isum when they were both attending UCLA. The couple married on February 10, 1946.
As Robinson forged his career in the major leagues, the couple faced mounting racism, from insults to death threats. Later in life, both Jackie and Rachel became actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
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