Health and Fitness

Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier 75 years ago


As Jackie Robinson ready to take the sector as the primary Black participant in fashionable baseball historical past on Opening Day 75 years in the past this Friday, an Related Press reporter requested if he had any butterflies in his abdomen. 

“Not a one,” Robinson replied, with a smile. “I wish I could say I did because then maybe I’d have an alibi if I don’t do so good. But I won’t be able to use that as an alibi.”

Two years earlier, in 1945, Brooklyn Dodgers President Department Rickey signed Robinson to a minor league contract, after Robinson performed a single season within the Negro Leagues. After a stellar 12 months with the staff’s high minor league staff in Montreal, the place he led the Worldwide League with a .349 batting common, Robinson was promoted to the Dodgers as a 28-year-old rookie in 1947. 

Image: Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson on April 10, 1947, after he signed his contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers.AP Photograph

Earlier than his MLB debut on a cold spring day in Brooklyn, Robinson posed for {a photograph} in entrance of the Dodgers dugout shaking fingers with interim supervisor Clyde Sukeforth — the scout who had introduced him to fulfill Rickey in 1945. Each Robinson and Sukeforth are smiling, however on both facet of them are glum-faced Dodgers gamers and coaches.

A few of Robinson’s teammates had organized a petition opposing enjoying with him. Rickey shortly snuffed out the protest, letting the gamers know he’d commerce anybody who wasn’t on board. It was in that pressure-cooker ambiance within the dugout that Robinson stepped out on the diamond on April 15 to interrupt baseball’s colour barrier.

Because the staff’s first baseman that day, he noticed motion proper from the beginning. Boston Braves hitter Dick Culler led off the sport with a floor ball to 3rd baseman John “Spider” Jorgensen, who threw to Robinson. Because the ball smacked into his glove, followers roared their approval for this routine but historic out. 

That attempting first season, Robinson would face loads of verbal abuse and worse from followers throughout the nation, however on this Tuesday afternoon at Ebbets Discipline, the place half the 26,000 followers have been Black, he obtained a heat welcome. Amongst his champions within the tiny ballpark was his spouse, Rachel Robinson.

“Black fans were so tense, and so enthusiastic — their expectations were so high, and their aspirations were so high — that they just reacted to everything,” she recalled in Ken Burns’s documentary, “Baseball.”

Many followers wore “I’m for Jackie” buttons.

In that morning’s New York Occasions, columnist Arthur Daley wrote that “Robinson almost has to be another DiMaggio in making good from the opening whistle,” referring to legendary Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio. “It’s not fair to him, but no one can do anything about it but himself. Pioneers never had it easy and Robinson, perforce, is a pioneer. … It’s his burden to carry from now on and he must carry it alone.”

Hitting second within the Brooklyn lineup, Robinson got here to bat within the backside of the primary inning to extra enthusiastic cheers. Followers yelled, “Come on, Jackie,” and “We’re with you, boy,” The Baltimore Afro-American reported.

Image: Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson is congratulated by former Sen. James Mead, D-N.Y., left, and Brooklyn Borough President John Cashmore earlier than the season opener at Ebbets Discipline in Brooklyn, N.Y., on April 15, 1947.Bettmann Archive

Dealing with one of many recreation’s greatest pitchers, Johnny Sain, who had gone 20-14 with a 2.21 ERA in 1946, Robinson grounded out to 3rd. Two innings later, he flew out to left subject. Within the backside of the fifth, there was extra futility, when he grounded right into a rally-killing double-play.

“With each failure, a groan went up through the stands as though every man, woman and child were trying as hard as he,” The Baltimore Afro-American wrote.

The dynamic rookie lastly made issues occur within the backside of the seventh. With the Dodgers trailing, 3-2, he reached on an error after executing a well-placed sacrifice bunt, and finally scored the go-ahead run on the way in which to a 5-3 Brooklyn victory. However his ultimate tally for the day was anticlimactic — 0-for-3.

“I did a miserable job,” Robinson wrote in his 1972 autobiography, “I By no means Had It Made.” If followers “expected any miracles out of Robinson, they were sadly disappointed.” 

Image: Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson in the course of the season opener at Ebbets Discipline on April 15, 1947.Irving Haberman/IH Photographs / Getty Photographs

Regardless of the historic day, main newspapers downplayed it. Each The New York Occasions and The Washington Submit, for instance, reported on Robinson’s debut contained in the paper, with the Occasions story barely mentioning him in any respect, focusing as a substitute on the sport. A Occasions column, additionally by Daley, headlined “Opening Day at Ebbets Discipline” didn’t get round to Robinson till the ninth paragraph, describing him as a “muscular Negro … who speaks quietly and intelligently when spoken to.” 

“Having Jackie on the team is still a little strange, just like anything else that’s new,” an unnamed veteran teammate mentioned within the column. “We just don’t know how to act with him. But he’ll be accepted in time.”

Robinson would face a barrage of abuse that 12 months — together with loss of life threats, gamers intentionally spiking him, and racial epithets from followers and opponents. However he helped lead the Dodgers to the Nationwide League pennant with a .297 batting common and a league-best 29 stolen bases. He additionally gained the Rookie of the 12 months — an award now named for him in each the Nationwide and American leagues. 

“He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides,” Martin Luther King Jr. mentioned in 1962, following Robinson’s induction into the Baseball Corridor of Fame.

David McMahon, co-writer and co-director of the PBS documentary “Jackie Robinson,” mentioned in an e-mail that Robinson “was truly on his own” on his opening day. “I don’t think he had friends in the mainstream press or on the team. No enemies, but no open support.”

“Now we think of it as a watershed moment — and it absolutely is — but the nation did not go on pause that day to see how Robinson’s debut played out,” he added. “The game did not sell out. There were 6,000 empty seats. I don’t think the coverage in the white press was underwhelming by design. These were different times.”

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