April 15 marked Jackie Robinson Day — to celebrate the day the legendary baseball player made his debut into Major League Baseball in 1947, breaking the color barrier that had been in place for more than fifty years. Prior to that, a Black baseball player had not been in major league baseball since 1889.
Robinson grew up in a large family in Georgia and attended UCLA, where he received four varsity letters in football, baseball, basketball, and track. At this time, UCLA’s team was the most integrated sports team out of all the colleges, with four black players on the football team, including Robinson. Due to his financial issues, he could not finish school at UCLA and enlisted in the army. In 1945, Robinson played one season with the Kansas City Monarchs, and, in 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ president, Branch Rickey, approached Robinson about joining his team.
Robinson faced challenges throughout his time on the team, with stadiums refusing to let the team play if Robinson was there, racist remarks from baseball fans and other teams, and his own teammates refusing to play with him on the field, though he was defended by the manager of the team. By the end of his season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was named National League Rookie of the Year. He had 12 homers, 29 steals, and an average of .297. He was named the Most Valuable Player in 1949 and won a batting title with a .342 average that same year. Robinson retired in 1956, after ten seasons, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. Robinson died on Oct. 24, 1972, of a heart attack.
Jackie Robinson Day has been a tradition of the MLB since 2004; he is commemorated April 15, or April 16. The extra day is meant to give teams more time to properly honor Robinson, in the event that they aren’t playing on a traditional off day. The day is meant to honor Robinson breaking barriers in baseball, and paving the way for desegregation in the sport. Ways that the MLB have celebrated Jackie Robinson Day this year included wearing Robinson’s #42 while on the field on their jerseys or sleeves, batting t-shirts made by the player’s alliance (that are not made for selling), as well as a virtual series in order to make up for the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the Trailblazer series. MLB created a video titled “Thank you, Jackie” that played on April 15 and 16, highlighting moments from his career, and what made him such an icon.
As baseball fans everywhere celebrated this day to honor a baseball legend, it is more important than ever to recognize the contributions brought about by Black players, and the changes that have been made to the League because of this. Robinson helped pave the way, but, with recent events, it is more important than ever to recognize how important his role was, and how much further we have to go in order to improve.
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