On Jackie Robinson: Breaker of baseball’s color barrier honored

April 15 marked the 62nd anniversary of the most monumental event in baseball, and perhaps all of sports history. It was on that date in 1947 that the Brooklyn Dodgers’ starting lineup included one Jackie Robinson as first baseman. Robinson became the first African-American to play for a Major League team that day, completing his journey that had started two years prior from the Negro Leagues to the Majors.

Robinson’s accomplishment was celebrated all throughout baseball on Wednesday as every player on every team was asked to wear Robinson’s number 42 on their uniform rather than their usual number. Number 42 was retired all throughout baseball in 1997 in honor of the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s feat, although players currently wearing the number were allowed to keep it. The only active player still wearing 42 is the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera.

Robinson’s journey to the big leagues was nowhere near a cakewalk. After a successful college athletic career and a stint in the U.S. military, Robinson was asked to play for the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs. His play with the Monarchs sparked interest in a few Major League teams, most importantly the Brooklyn Dodgers, along with their general manager, Branch Rickey. After heavily scouting Robinson, he offered him a contract, and in 1946 spring training, Jackie Robinson became the first black man in Minor League history. Robinson played for the Dodgers’ AAA Minor League team, the Montreal Royals, that year, but encountered much hostility for his color, and at one point the team was forced to cancel a Southern exhibition game stint. Despite it all, Robinson led the league that year in batting average, blazing the trail for his Major League debut.

Jackie’s major league career led the way for the integration of many hotels and restaurants that the Dodgers stayed at that year, allowing Robinson to stay with his teammates in otherwise segregated establishments. Racism faced him everywhere he turned, but Robinson took the challenges with great poise, demonstrating the demeanor Rickey had looked for when he told Robinson that he didn’t want a black player who was afraid to fight back, but one “with guts enough not to fight back.” An example for us all, Robinson did just that.

The first tale I ever heard about Jackie Robinson and the challenges he faced was about a game in Cincinnati in which the abuse from the fans was especially harsh. The Dodgers’ shortstop, Pee Wee Reese, walked across the field to first base and put his arm around Robinson to show his support. The gesture is probably the most well-known story in all of baseball, and showed a selflessness and courage we could all learn from.

The Jackie Robinson tale is one that truly revolutionized not only baseball, but the history of the entire United States. Where we would be now without Jackie is something I’d rather not consider, and the game would not have been the same without the other black players who followed Robinson, including Satchel Paige, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Maury Wills, and — later — Rickey Henderson. And you can’t forget that the top two home run hitters of all time — Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds — would never have played were it not for Jackie Robinson. So next time April 15 rolls around, don’t forget to take a moment to honor one of the greatest players and pioneers of all time.