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Jackie Robinson


Position: Second baseman
Teams: Kansas City Monarchs, 1945; Brooklyn Dodgers, 1947-1956

The April 1945 Tryout
with the Red Sox
In 1959, the Boston Red Sox became the last major-league team to integrate. But in April 1945, the Red Sox gave Jackie Robinson and two other African Americans, outfielder and future Boston Brave Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams, a tryout at Fenway Park.

The trial was the result of political pressure exerted on the team by Boston City Councillor Isadore H.Y. Muchnick, who vowed to fight the renewal of the club’s permit to play Sunday baseball at Fenway Park unless they gave a tryout to black players.

Through the efforts of sportswriter Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier, an audition was arranged for Robinson, Jethroe, and Williams at Fenway.

In later years, Robinson was convinced the Red Sox never had any intention of becoming the first team to break the color line.

During the first half of this century a color line excluding African Americans extended to nearly every significant field of endeavor. There was a great inertia that needed to be overcome in order to create the integrated society promised in the Constitution. That first, high-profile integration came on a baseball diamond, and the first black man to cross the white lines was Jackie Robinson.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson (1919-1972) grew up in Pasadena, California, in a poor neighborhood. His brother, Mack, participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, and Jackie was an outstanding athlete as well. He went to UCLA and starred in four sports. He broke the Pacific Coast Conference record in the broad jump and twice was the PCC’s leading scorer in basketball. He led the nation in yards per carry in football and was a baseball star.

In 1941, he played with the Los Angeles Bulldogs pro football team. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Jackie attended Officer Candidate School in Kansas, making it to second lieutenant. In 1944, he was threatened with a court martial because he refused to sit in the back of an army bus; he instead received an honorable discharge.

Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League after his discharge. At $100 per week, it was the best paying job he could get. When he was approached by Dodgers GM Branch Rickey’s representative, Clyde Sukeforth, Jackie was initially disbelieving and disinterested. “Suddenly I became disgusted with myself,” Robinson said. “Why the reluctance? Why the hesitancy? After all, it was a gamble; you don’t get anyplace in life if you don’t take a risk once in a while.”

Rickey chose Robinson to be the first African American in the major leagues for many reasons, but aside from being an outstanding athlete and baseball player, he had many character strengths. From the beginning, Jackie was everything Rickey wanted.

Robinson first broke the color line with Montreal of the International League in 1946, and he led the league with a .349 batting average and 113 runs scored as his team won the Little World Series.

With the Dodgers in 1947, Robinson was Rookie of the Year. He said that the lowest day of his rookie year was his first visit to Philadelphia, when he could “scarcely believe my ears. Almost as if it had been synchronized by some master conductor, hate poured forth from the Phillies dugout.” Jackie said he was never closer to quitting. “How could I have thought that barriers would fall, that my talent could triumph over bigotry?”

Jackie Robinson
In 1946, Jackie Robinson became the first African American in the major leagues.
He became Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers in 1947.

Jackie was also combative after the most overt racism had faded. He refused to be someone he was not, refused to conform to an image of a man who “knew his place.” It is important to his memory that he not only took the first step to integrate the majors, but he took the next step, too. He was not afraid to let his talent speak for itself, and to be himself.

Jackie won a batting title in 1949 at .342 on the way to being named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Though he played just 10 seasons, he helped the Dodgers to six World Series, winning one; the Dodgers were often the victims of the Yankees buzz saw. Robinson was the most devastating baserunner of his day and a fine basestealer. He had dangerous home run power and was exceptionally difficult to strike out, fanning only 291 times in more than 5,000 appearances at the plate.

He played his first season for the Dodgers at first base, an unfamiliar position, and set a record for rookie double plays that still stands. Later he became one of the very best second basemen in history. Robinson retired from baseball in 1957 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962.

Here are Jackie Robinson's negro league totals*:

BA

G

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

SB

.387

47

163

63

14

4

5

13

Note: Robinson's negro league career statistics are incomplete.

And his major league totals:

BA

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

.311

1,382

4,877

947

1,518

273

54

137

734

197

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