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April 15, 1947 will go down as the day Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers forever changed the game of baseball. Today, Robinson is being honored in every major league park across our country. His #42 is the only mandatory retired uniform number in the game. Today, in honor of Jackie Robinson, every major leaguer will wear #42. Tributes and pre-game ceremonies will also mark his historic accomplishments.
The year was 1945. Brooklyn Dodgers President and visionary Branch Rickey was actively scouting Negro League players. Jackie Robinson was discovered while playing for the Kansas City Monarchs. After numerous investigative background checks Rickey and Robinson met. According to various reports, Rickey grilled Robinson to test his toughness on many levels, including how he reacted to racial taunts. On August 25, 1945 Robinson was signed to a minor contract. After a stellar season in Montreal it was soon announced he would be promoted to the major league Dodgers club as the first African American baseball player.
Mixed reactions within our country soon followed. Segregation and racial discrimination were very much alive and kicking in those days. Robinson soon received numerous death threats. Often times being treated as less then human when refused admission to restaurants and hotels while enduring racial epitaphs directed at his family and culture. There were a few Brooklyn players who protested Robinson's signing. Branch Rickey laid down the law stating Jackie was here to stay. Rickey had also made clear to Robinson, how he wanted a player strong enough to handle the harsh treatment JR would receive as the leagues first African American player. Robinson responded admirably while enduring harsh reactions early in his career.
None of us could possibly fathom what it was like for Mr. Robinson. Enduring hate mail day after day, crowd jeers, racial divide, teammates not associating with him etc. It was a much different world in those days. And thru it all Jackie excelled (see Robinson's Major League stats from www.baseball-reference.com). Perhaps it was his excellence on the baseball diamond which finally won over most of his team, fans, and respect by Americans. Jackie was a star, patriot and top rate human being.
His first season was a smashing success as he was named Rookie of the Year while helping his Dodgers capture the National League Pennant. In 1949, he was selected Most Valuable Player as he won batting title honors with a .342 average. Robinson's Dodgers played in six World Series during his ten year career. He quickly became an American hero and offered hope to many young African American players around our country.
Robinson paved the way for future African American athletes... and perhaps too... players of all denominations. April 15th will always be honored each season by Major League Baseball and rightfully so. Integration into professional sports and the American way of life was long overdue by 1947. We are all created as equals ... yet, something happened along the way in our nation a very long time ago which created deep rooted hatred of our fellow man. It took many years for racial divides to be overcome and in some walks of life racism still exists today.
Jackie Robinson Day should be viewed for more than just breaking the color barrier in baseball. He should be honored for opening eyes of society, paving the way for future generations, and for what great men are made of by overcoming adversity while striving for success.