On This Date in Sports: April 15, 1947: Jackie
In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Jackie Robinson makes his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers breaking baseball's color barrier. Robinson is the first African American to play Major League Baseball since Moses and Weldy Walker played with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association in 1884. After the Walker's only season, owners created a "gentleman's agreement" that barred the signing of black players. Jackie Robinson goes hitless in three at-bats but scores a run as the Dodgers defeat the Boston Braves 5-3 at Ebbets Field. Robinson would win the first Rookie of the Year award, leading Brooklyn to the pennant, batting .297 with 12 home runs and 48 RBI.
Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. Raised by a single mother who worked two jobs in Pasadena, California, Jackie Robinson excelled at sports. He ran track, like his older brother Mack Robinson who won a Siver Meda at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in the 200m, finishing behind Jesse Owens. Robinson played football, basketball, and baseball at John Muir High School. After spending time at Pasadena Junior College, Jackie Robinson moved to UCLA and became the first athlete at UCLA to letter in four sports. Baseball, in fact, was in worst sport at UCLA. He was a top running back with the Bruins and was set to play professionally with the Los Angeles Bulldogs when the attacks on Pearl Harbor sent the United States into World War II. Jackie Robinson's athletic career was put on hold as he enlisted in the Army.
While in the Army, Jackie Robinson served in a segregated unit; he was court-martialed in 1944 for refusing to move to the back of a bus. Robinson was subsequently acquitted and given an honorable discharge. As his military career ended, Robinson was encouraged to make a tryout with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League. Robinson quickly emerged as a star on the Monarchs in 1945; at the same time, Branch Rickey, President of the Brooklyn Dodgers, began his quest to integrate baseball.
Branch Rickey considered several factors in choosing his man to break the color barrier. He knew that the player had to be good, and he had to be able to handle the racial catcalls and stress he would get from fans and players who did not want to see baseball change. Rickey challenged Jackie Robinson upon signing him to be able not to fight back when racist agitators challenged him. Robinson was the perfect choice to make history. His military background, education, and baseball skills were the perfect combination to handle the challenges that would come his way.
Jackie Robinson spent the 1946 season with the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers' top farm club, and made the roster out of spring training in 1947. The Dodgers, however, had their own drama, as Leo Durocher, the club's manager, was suspended for the season due to consorting with gamblers and living with a married woman. Lorraine Day would divorce her husband and eventually marry Durocher. Clyde Sukeforth, a longtime scout, managed the Dodgers on Opening Day, putting Robinson at first base and batting second in the Dodgers' lineup.
Johnny Sain got the start for the Braves as Jackie Robinson grounded to third in his first at-bat. Robinson flew out to left field for his second at-bat against Sain in the third. Robinson grounded into an inning-ending double play in the fifth as the game was tied 1-1. Eddie Stanky led off with a walk with Brooklyn trailing 3-2 in the seventh inning. Jackie Robinson was called on to lay down a bunt and did so perfectly, reaching on an error as the Dodgers began a four-run rally, with Robinson scoring the go-ahead run on a double by Pete Reiser. The Dodgers would win the game 5-3 as Jackie's debut became the story of the year.
Jackie Robinson would win over teammates and fans with his play, as he successfully deflected the racist catcalls, death threats, and hate mail. The Dodgers would win the National League Pennant with Burt Shotton managing the team in Durrocher's absence. Jackie Robinson won the first Rookie of the Year award, batting .297 with 12 home runs and 48 RBI. He also led the league with 29 hits and had 28 sacrifice bunts.
The Rookie of the Year Award is now named in honor of Jackie Robinson, as his #42 was retired in 1997, on the 50th anniversary of his debut.