Jackie Robinson Day

Jackie Robinson Day

Date Observed: On or around April 15
Location: Major league ballparks in the U.S.

Jackie Robinson Day pays tribute to the first African-American man to break the color barrier in America's national pastime, the game of professional baseball. In recognition of the date on which Jackie Robinson played his first major league game, on or around April 15 each year, commemorative celebrations are held at professional baseball stadiums across the country.

Historical Background

Born in Cairo, Georgia, in 1919, Jack Roosevelt Robinson, called "Jackie," was the son of Jerry Robinson, a plantation farm worker, and Mallie McGriff, a domestic worker. Jackie was one of five children in the family. Robinson's father left his family not long after Jackie's birth, and his mother sought a better life and income in California. Urged by his mother to "turn the other cheek" to incidents of racial intolerance, Jackie experienced discrimination of the 1920s and 1930s first-hand and sometimes failed to heed her words of restraint when rocks were thrown his way or crosses burned nearby.

Robinson began his sports career in college at the University of California at Los Angeles, demonstrating broad athletic abilities by lettering in baseball, basketball, football, and track and field. He left school in his senior year, joining the army to serve in World War II. Robinson successfully pushed for admittance to Officer Training School and was a first lieutenant when honorably discharged in 1944. He had risked court-martial for refusing to move to the back of a military bus and later was cleared of insubordination.

Upon his return to civilian life, Robinson tried out for the Kansas City Monarchs, a black baseball club. Scouts working for Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey spotted Robinson and soon he was on Rickey's short list of African Americans slated to be the first to transition to the big leagues. Although Major League Baseball Commissioner "Happy" Chandler had set up a Committee on Baseball Integration, many of Rickey's fellow managers were not supportive. So, initially, Rickey allowed everyone to believe that, up until the last possible moment, he was scouting black players to field his own Negro League. But, when he met with Robinson on August 28, 1945, he made certain that Jackie knew otherwise. Reports of that meeting are legendary, having Rickey hurling vile racial invectives at Robinson to see if the athlete had the fortitude to weather the verbal abuse to which he would be subjected as a black man in the world of white baseball. As recounted in historian Jules Tygiel's book, Robinson eventually responded, "Do you want a ballplayer who's afraid to fight back?" Rickey replied, "I want a player with guts enough not to fight back."

By 1947, Robinson had made it to the big leagues and his name had been added to the Brooklyn Dodgers roster. The announcement prompted death threats against Robinson and his family. At odds with the naysayers, however, was Robinson's sheer ability to play ball. In his first year in the majors, he was named Rookie of the Year, and his contributions undeniably helped lead the Dodgers to win the pennant.

Although Robinson never did completely shy away from speaking up for himself when he believed the occasion warranted it, he also became a great role model in the school of "letting talent speak for itself." Not long after Robinson was signed to the Dodgers, other teams began to look to the Negro Leagues to supplement their traditional talent pools. Before long, Major League Baseball was designating those it had previously denied admittance as some of its "greats."

Robinson accomplished much on the field of baseball. Highlights during his 1947-1956 career with the Dodgers include stealing home base 19 times; being named National League All Star six times; earning the 1949 National League batting title with a .342 average and being awarded the League's Most Valuable Player title that same year. Robinson chose to retire in 1957 upon learning that he was to be traded to the Dodgers' archrival, the New York Giants.

But as much as Robinson racked up impressive statistics, his actions and presence - both on and off the playing field - contributed just as much to his legacy. During his playing career and after, Robinson advocated for integration and cooperation between the races. He was a strong proponent of greater minority hiring in baseball, additionally pressing for representation in management and ownership.

Robinson had many detractors during his day, but he also had supporters. In 1962 Robinson became the first African American admitted into the Cooperstown, New York, Baseball Hall of Fame. He died of a heart attack in 1972.

In 1997, to honor the 50th anniversary of Robinson's first game with the Dodgers (the team has since moved to Los Angeles) Major League Baseball permanently retired his "42" uniform number - it would never be given to another player on any team. In March of 2005, Robinson was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.

Early Baseball Segregation

The Weeksville of New York beat the Colored Union Club 11-0 on September 28, 1860, at the first black versus black baseball game, held at Elysian Fields in Brooklyn, New York. After the Civil War, the first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was organized in 1869. In 1871 the National Association of Professional Baseball Players was chartered (this would one day evolve into today's National League). Throughout the decade additional leagues formed, one being the Western League, which became the American League.

Up until the mid-to-late 1870s, around the end of the Reconstruction period and the institution of Jim Crow laws, some blacks did play baseball with minor league clubs and even a rare few with major league teams. But they were commonly subjected to verbal and physical abuse from teammates, competitors, and spectators. In 1868, white-run baseball took the official stance of prohibiting the hiring of blacks. That same year, the National Association of Baseball Players voted unanimously to bar "any club which may be composed of one or more colored persons." In 1887 the Chicago White Stockings threatened to boycott a game against the integrated Newark Giants.

With such segregationist attitudes working against them, blacks began decades of struggle to develop and maintain various leagues that would allow them to take part in America's national pastime. Today, these endeavors are collectively referred to as "The Negro Leagues."

The first professional black baseball team was formed in 1885 by a white businessman of Trenton, New Jersey, Walter Cook, who came across a group of Argyle Hotel waiters and porters playing for fun in Babylon, New York. Cook was successful in attracting more white fans to games by naming his team the Cuban Giants.

In 1920 Andrew "Rube" Foster, known as the Father of Black Baseball, founded the first Negro professional league - the National Negro Baseball League. In the following years other black leagues were formed. All the while, a parallel allwhite baseball system was in operation. These two segregated sporting systems continued through the early 20th century.

Creation of the Observance

In 2004, organized baseball took steps to honor Robinson's memory and achievements in an annual fashion by designating every April 15 Jackie Robinson Day. In an MLB press release, Commissioner Alan H. "Bud" Selig noted:

By establishing April 15 as "Jackie Robinson Day" throughout Major League Baseball, we are further ensuring that the incredible contributions and sacrifices he made - for baseball and society - will not be forgotten.

April 15, 2004, marked the first of what continues to be seen as a celebration of a truly remarkable man, John "Jackie" Roosevelt Robinson, honored as much for his baseball prowess as for his betterment of the human condition in his quest for the equal treatment of minorities.

Observance

Each year, on or about April 15 (depending upon scheduled game days), Major League Baseball teams across the nation collectively celebrate the memory and accomplishments - both on and off the field - of Jackie Robinson.

There are some consistencies in the ways that the 14 American and 16 National League teams honor Robinson each year. The ceremonies are coordinated by whichever team is at home on Jackie Robinson Day. The majority of ceremonies are typically conducted pre-game, although some events may run concurrently with the actual game (for example, trivia quizzes run on electronic scoreboards).

Often, Jackie Robinson Foundation scholarship recipients are invited to participate in some manner, for example, throwing out a ceremonial first pitch. Major League Baseball provides the home teams with commemorative bases to use at the games, as well as ceremonial first pitch home plates. Special line-up cards are typically issued, and memorabilia, such as photos of Robinson, old team photos, and Negro League-related items, may be offered as special crowd giveaways.

Prominent people associated with Major League Baseball, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, other charitable youth organizations and many accomplished, inspirational African Americans have taken part in the event. Throughout the American and National Leagues, teams have become quite creative in the ways that they recognize Robinson's Pittsburgh Courier from April 19, 1947, legacy. Most employ a significant amount of community outreach in their planning for the annual event, involving numerous facets of the community, often on both the local and state levels. Similarly, many teams use the opportunity to draw attention not only to the athletic component of Robinson's achievements, but also to focus on a broad spectrum of African-American culture and accomplishments in their communities.

Contacts and Web Sites

"Baseball and Jackie Robinson" Library of Congress

Jackie Robinson Foundation 3 W. 35th St., 11th Fl. New York, NY 10001-2204 212-290-8600; fax: 212-290-8081

Jackie Robinson Information Archives Major League Baseball c/o MLB Advanced Media, L.P. 75 Ninth Ave., 5th Fl. New York, NY 10011

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum 1616 E. 18th St. Kansas City, MO 64102 816-221-1960 or 888-221-6526; fax: 816-221-8424

Official Web Site of Jackie Robinson, presented by CMG Worldwide, agent of the Estate of Jackie Robinson

Further Reading

Denenberg, Barry. Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson. New York: Scholastic, 1990. (young adult) Frommer, Harvey. Rickey and Robinson: The Men Who Broke Baseball's Color Barrier. Boulder, CO: Taylor Trade Publishing Company, 2003. Lamb, Chris. Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. Major League Baseball. "Major League Baseball Declares April 15 Jackie Robinson Day," March 3, 2004. .jsp?ymd=20040303&content_id=644548&vkey=pr_mlb&fext=.jsp. Peterson, Robert W. Only the Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Robinson, Sharon. Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America. New York: Scholastic, 2004. (young adult) Rutkoff, Peter M., ed. Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture 1997: Jackie Robinson . Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company Publishers, 2000. Tygiel, Jules. Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Writings by Jackie Robinson

Baseball Has Done It. Introduction by Spike Lee. Brooklyn, NY: Ig Publishing, 2005. With Alfred Duckett. I Never Had It Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2003.

Robinson (Jackie) Day

April 15
Jackie Robinson Day is celebrated throughout Major League Baseball (MLB) in honor of Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play professional baseball in the MLB. In the first half of the 20th century, baseball was segregated. Robinson and other African Americans played in the Negro Leagues, but discrimination prevented them from playing in the MLB. On April 15, 1947, Robinson played his first professional game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In addition to breaking the color barrier, he went on to be named Rookie of the Year and later the National League's Most Valuable Player. A six-time All-Star, he was elected in 1962 to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
To commemorate Robinson's achievements, activities are planned each year at all MLB stadiums on April 15th, or the date closest to that on which a baseball game is scheduled. Home teams coordinate activities for the tribute, which may include pregame award presentations, special guests throwing the first pitch, prizes for fans in attendance, and appearances by other legendary baseball stars. Jackie Robinson Day has been celebrated each year since 2004, with Robinson's widow, Rachel, and other family members taking part in the annual ceremonies. To honor Robinson in 2007, many players donned special jerseys emblazoned with the number 42, which was Robinson's number and which was permanently retired from baseball in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of his first game as a Dodger.
CONTACTS:
Jackie Robinson Day
Major League Baseball
c/o MLB Advanced Media, L.P.
75 Ninth Ave., 5th Fl.
New York, NY 10011
mlb.mlb.com/mlb/events/jrd/index_07.jsp
Jackie Robinson Foundation
One Hudson Sq.
75 Varick St., 2nd Fl.
New York, NY 10013-1917
212-290-8600; fax: 212-290-8081
www.jackierobinson.org
SOURCES:
AAH-2007, p. 233
(c)
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