Jackie Robinson was a hero to many, and not just for his skills on the field. He was a legend in his own time who managed to break the color barrier on April 15th, 1947 when he played his first major league game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The sport had been segregated for 50 years before then, but after that, the sky was the limit. Robinson became a dedicated Civil Rights activist and held court with the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Presidents Nixon and Kennedy in debates about the future of the country. In a letter to Vice President Nixon in 1957, he wrote:
“I know that you realize that in the tasks that lie ahead all-freedom-loving Americans will want to share in achieving a society in which no man is penalized or favored solely because of his race, color, religion, or national origin.”
Robinson was honored yesterday on the anniversary of his first game, where every MLB player wore number 42 in recognition of the legendary player; the number was retired in 1997, and Yankees player Mariano Rivera is the last to carry the torch for the iconic digits.
“Being the last minority to be wearing this No. 42, it’s an honor and privilege and a challenge to carry this legacy of the number that is attached to his name,’’ Rivera said Sunday.
“This day is the reason I get a chance to play this great game of baseball, Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier 65 years ago and doing a lot of things not only for baseball, but the civil rights movement,’’ Yankees center-fielder Curtis Granderson said yesterday at Yankee Stadium, where Robinson’s widow and daughter helped honor the baseball great.
Robinson became a star player after his recruit to the Dodgers in 1945, leading his team to win six National League pennants and one World Series game, and it was all during a time when African-American players were scarce. In fact, Jim Crow laws prevented him from being with his team in hotels and restaurants while they were traveling for away games in the South.
After leaving an indelible mark on the game, he retired in 1957 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. He passed away in 1972.