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This Week in Sports History: The Story of Jackie Robinson

On April 10, 1947, Jackie Robinson’s contract was purchased from the Montreal Royals by the Brooklyn Dodgers, making history by breaking baseball’s color barrier. 

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia on January 31, 1919. The family moved to Pasadena, California when Robinson’s father left. Robinson showed athletic excellence at a young age and was a four-sport letterman at John Muir high school. He played shortstop in baseball, point guard in basketball, quarterback and safety on the football team and competed as a long jumper in track. After high school, he moved on to Pasadena Junior College where he continued to compete in those four sports. 

Robinson was also very outspoken about racial activism. He was arrested for trying to verbally defend his friend from being wrongfully incarcerated. 

Robinson enrolled in UCLA in 1939, becoming the first athlete in the school’s history to letter in four sports. Baseball was arguably his worst sport in college, believe it or not. His baseball season was lackluster compared to his NCAA championship win in the long jump, West Coast Conference MVP award in basketball or leading the nation in punt return average along with leading UCLA’s football team in passing and rushing yards. 

Robinson left school just months before graduation and got a job as an assistant athletic director. He tried to play professional football until he was drafted into the Army, where he eventually became a lieutenant. He was honorably discharged after he refused to sit on the back of a bus. He was also charged with public drunkenness, even though he didn’t drink. His time in the Army led to an opportunity to play in the Negro Leagues.

Robinson signed a contract with the Kansas City Monarchs and made the league’s All-Star game in the 1945 season. The next season, he was assigned to the team’s AAA affiliate, the Montreal Royals. He had an exceptional season and was named the league’s MVP.

When Robinson had his contract purchased by the Dodgers in the 1947 season he officially broke the color barrier, and he was met with mixed reactions. Many of his fellow players and the media reacted positively to his addition to the team, but many fans and some players were opposed to baseball being integrated. Robinson got death threats from fans and some opposing players tried to intentionally injure him. 

Although this reception hurt him literally and figuratively, Robinson didn’t let it affect his play. Robinson went on to become a 6-time All-Star, the 1949 NL MVP, a 1955 World Series champion and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962. 

After his career was done, Robinson continued working as an activist as well as a part-time sports analyst. His time after baseball was cut short due to health problems, and he passed away in 1972. 

The MLB retired his number 42 across the whole league in 1997 and created Jackie Robinson Day. Every year on April 15, Jackie Robinson Day celebrates him for breaking the color barrier, and every player in the MLB wears 42 in the games played on that day.


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