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Jackie Robinson Biography

Jackie Robinson Biography

Jackie Robinson was the first black player to play Major League Baseball. Jackie bore the brunt of the opponents, fans, and even his teammates. But in the end he was so good that he won them all over.
Anish Chandy
Last Updated: Apr 14, 2018
A film named '42' released in 2013, is a biographical drama based on the life of Jackie Robinson, starring Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. The film derives its name from the number that Jackie wore on his Dodgers' jersey.
Jackie Robinson
Image Credit: U.S. Information Agency/NARA

Jackie Robinson
Born: January 31, 1919
Died: October 24, 1972 (aged 53)

Batting Average - .311
Hits - 1,518
Home Runs - 137
Jack Roosevelt Robinson, popularly known as Jackie Robinson in the world of baseball, was a legendary sporting and civil rights movement figure, best known for his achievements while playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Although his professional career was not the longest, his accomplishments on the baseball diamond made him one of the greatest baseball players the world had seen, but that wasn't all that Jack Roosevelt 'Jackie' Robinson was known for.

Inducted into the Baseball National Hall of Fame in 1962, Robinson is remembered for breaking the barrier of racial segregation in the field of sports - which was at its peak back then.

Here is a look at the life of a man who would go on to defy racial authority and overcome unfavorable odds to change the face of sports once and for all.
Early Life
Jackie Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. His father, who was a plantation worker, left the family soon after his birth, making the Robinson family shift to Pasadena, California. Pasadena's racial situation was slightly better than Georgia, but there too blacks were denied recreational activities like going to theaters or public food joints.

For a brief period, Robinson started indulging in rowdy activities after joining a neighborhood gang. But he was lucky to be surrounded by mentors who guided him on the right path, especially after noticing his talent in the field of sports.

In 1935, while at John Muir High School, Robinson excelled at various sports like baseball, football, soccer, tennis, basketball and broad jump. Sports was one sphere where he could compete at the same level as white people. However, he was time and again reminded of his race when his opponents would play more aggressively against him and taunt him because of his color.

In 1937, he enrolled in the Pasadena Junior College, where he continued his sporting achievements much like he did at Muir Tech, excelling in multiple sports. He also started exhibiting leadership qualities by becoming a part of various student bodies and organizations in the college. It was at this time that Robinson began to vocally defy the irrational authority of the whites over the blacks by raising his voice when he found a situation where blacks were being subjugated.
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
In 1939, Robinson got admission in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), one of the most prominent institutions in the world. Robinson did not fail to impress at UCLA either. He was the highest scorer in the Pacific Coast Conference basketball season twice, and was the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion in long jump. Robinson went on to win varsity letters in four different sports - basketball, baseball, track and football, an unprecedented feat at UCLA. Due to financial pressures, Robinson left UCLA in 1941, just before completing his graduation.
Post-UCLA and Military Career
Shortly after leaving college, Robinson served as an Assistant Athletic Director at the National Youth Administration (NYA) in Atascadero, California for a few months before taking the path of sports again. In 1941, he joined the semi-professional football team Honolulu Bears in Hawaii. After a brief stint, he returned to California to play professional football with the Los Angeles Bulldogs. However, his football career was short-lived as a shocking Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor meant that the United States was at war with Japan.

In 1942, Robinson was drafted into the U.S. Army and was assigned to a segregated unit in Fort Riley, Kansas. Though initially he was not allowed to attend the Officer Candidate School, protests from various prominent black personalities posted at that time in Fort Riley - like Heavyweight Boxing champion Joe Louis - eventually led to liberal norms, allowing Robinson to complete the course and be commissioned as a lieutenant in 1943. During his time in the army, several authority-defying acts - like refusal to sit at the end of the bus just because of his color - led to a court martial. However, public outcry, especially from the black people, made sure his charge was reduced to two counts of insubordination, which he was acquitted of by an all-white panel of nine officers. Eventually, Robinson was honorably discharged from service in 1944.
Baseball Career
After leaving the army, Robinson signed with Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro American League in 1945. With the Monarchs, Robinson quite clearly had established himself as one of the prominent black players out there. But slowly, Robinson was getting frustrated with the incompetence of the Negro American League. He tried to get into the Major League by having a try-out with the Boston Red Sox, but had to leave the field humiliated after the spectators, who mainly comprised of the Red Sox management, threw racial insults at him. However, all this while he was slowly getting noticed by Major League Baseball scouts around the country. One such scout was Branch Rickey, President of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who was very impressed with Robinson's abilities and wanted to include him in the team. However, his main concern here was not talent, but temperament. Rickey knew that Robinson would face a lot of racial abuse for the initial few years, and before recruiting him, he wanted to make sure Robinson had the patience and composure to face all this. He purposely put him through a grueling and humiliating interview process to test Robinson's temperament, and only after he got Robinson to promise not to react to any kind of abuse, agreed to sign him. On October 23, 1947, the historic announcement was made that a black man would play for the Montreal Royals, Brooklyn Dodgers' affiliate club in the minor league.

The news that a black man was playing Major League Baseball spread like wildfire throughout the nation. All over the country, blacks were united in their support for Robinson. Special masses were held on match days where the preachers would pray for Jackie Robinson. Another factor that went against Jackie Robinson was that he was 27 years old. It was unusual for someone to make his major league debut at this age.

In his first season with the Dodgers, the players made life difficult for Jackie Robinson. A group of players from the Dodgers, led by Dixie Walker, suggested they would strike rather than play alongside Robinson. But the team management told them that Jackie would play and that Dixie and his mates could leave if they wished.

Robinson did find people whom he could confide in. For instance, he found solace in the company of Pittsburgh Pirate Hank Greenberg, the first major Jewish baseball star who had experienced anti-Semitic abuse. The two could relate to each other's struggles in overcoming racial prejudice.

On the field, Jackie Robinson formed a very effective combination with shortstop Pee Wee Reese. Although initially Reese was worried that Robinson might take his position as a shortstop, he did not hold any prejudice against him. Reese was one of the few whites in the team to support Robinson.

Robinson was an exceptionally talented and disciplined hitter, with a career average of .317. He was known as the most aggressive and successful base runner of his era. He consistently disrupted the concentration of pitchers, catchers and middle infielders. His home plate prowess and defensive skills bear testimony to the fact that he was regarded as one of the most intelligent baseball players of any era. It was almost impossible to get Robinson last man out. Following his exceptional displays, Robinson was named 'Rookie of the Year' in 1947.

Most of Jackie Robinson's biggest challenges were off-field. In spite of his sterling performance on the field, his teammates signed a petition to get him off the team. On many occasions, base runners kicked their spiked shoes into his shins, while substitutes on the bench exhorted him to carry their bags and drinks. Fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers preferred that the team lose without Robinson than win with him in the team.

Of the ten years he played baseball, six years were spent leading the Brooklyn Dodgers into the World Series, which the Dodgers won in 1955, beating the New York Yankees. Robinson was named the league's Most Valuable Player in 1949 and continued to impress for the next 7 years. In 1956, he began to show effects of diabetes, and his interest in the sport started waning. Although his transfer to the New York Giants was agreed, it never took place as Robinson decided to call it a day on his baseball career.
Post-Baseball Career
Before leaving baseball, Robinson struck an agreement with New York-based restaurant chain 'Chock Full o'Nuts', where he served as an executive. Robinson remained active in his support for the black community. And though he disagreed with some of the non-violent views of Martin Luther King because of his own aggressive temperament, he became a vocal supporter for King. At this time, he also chaired the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1962, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Personal Life and Death
Robinson married Rachel Isum on Feb. 10, 1946. He had 3 children with Rachel: Jackie Jr., Sharon and David. Towards the end of his professional baseball career, heart ailments coupled with diabetes had begun to show severe symptoms in Robinson. Although he managed to remain active after his professional career, his health was worsening as years rolled by, and eventually on October 24, 1972, the illness got the better of Robinson and he succumbed to a heart attack.
Though Robinson's career in professional baseball was short-lived, he managed to achieve more than what anyone could have deemed possible for a black man in those times. But far away from the world of honors like cups, medals and championships, his greatest achievement came in the form of devoting and sacrificing his entire life for the upliftment of black people from the crutches of racial subjugation. The world of sports just would not have been the same without Jackie's contribution.