Today would have been groundbreaking baseball player Jackie Robinson‘s 94th birthday. Even though he died five years before the Seattle Mariners were founded as a ball club, his ball-playing prowess influenced all of the baseball teams, including our beloved M’s. He was the first Black man to play in the Major Leagues, and he paved the way for many sports greats. It couldn’t have been easy to debut on an all-white baseball team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1947 when teams were segregated.
Robinson went on too play in six World Series championships. In 1949, he was the first player to win the National League Most Valuable Player award, becoming the first Black man to do so. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, and his uniform number, 42, was retired (As a bit of nerd trivia, what novel claims that “42″ is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?) in 1997.
Robinson’s career batting average, when he retired in 1957, was .311. This Cairo, Georgia-born player was the youngest of five children raised by a single mother in poverty. He attended John Muir High School and then went on to attend Pasadena College, where he excelled in sports. In addition to baseball, Robinson played football and basketball, and he was on the track team. In 1938, he was voted the area’s Most Valuable Player.
After having to leave UCLA due to financial distress, Robinson moved to Hawaii and began playing semi-professional ball out there for the Honolulu Bears. From ’42-’44, Robinson served in the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant. He was court-martialed when he refused to move to the back of a segregated bus. Luckily for him, he was acquitted of charges and received honorable discharge. This is when he began too play baseball professionally. His first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers took place at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947.
It wasn’t easy for Robinson to integrate into the team; his family often received threats, and he was often the object of racist actions. However, Robinson kept at it despite how hard it was. He went on to not only play an outstanding game, but also to champion civil rights and speak out against racism and discrimination.
Please join me in wishing this baseball legend a very happy birthday. I think if he were hear with us today, he would be very pleased to see the complete integration of race in sports.