The Runner Sports

Salute To 42: MLB Honors Jackie Robinson

Throughout Major League Baseball, April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day. Every player on every team will wear Robinson’s #42, a tradition that began on April 15, 2004, honoring the anniversary of his big-league debut.

MLB also universally retired his number in 1997, meaning no player may ever wear that number again. The ten-year-veteran Brooklyn Dodger is the first pro athlete to be so honored, and no other pro sports league has ever honored an athlete in that way.

Hear Longtime Dodgers Broadcaster, Vin Scully Relate Anecdote, “We’ll All Wear No. 42.”

Many glowing words have been written, over the decades, about the man it has been said “broke the color barrier” in pro baseball, when the Brooklyn Dodgers started the 28-year-old at first base on April 15, 1947.

Read on for a few words you may already know about the man, and hopefully many more that will be new to you, and that might inspire you toward the greatness he strove for daily.

He won the National League Rookie of the Year that year, and went on to become a 6-time All-Star, as he settled into a career mostly at second base, but he occasionally played third.

In 1949, Robinson was the NL Batting and Stolen Bases Champion with a batting average of .342 and 37 stolen bases.

In 1962, his first year of eligibility, Robinson became the first African-American to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Somewhere in space, there’s an asteroid named after the man with 1,515 career hits and a .311 batting average.  On March 1, 1981, American astronomer Schelte John “Bobby” Bus discovered an asteroid at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. Bus named the asteroid “4319 Jackierobinson,” after his favorite baseball player.

Robinson was the first African-American TV sports analyst. He was tapped to broadcast ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week telecasts in 1965. Robinson later worked as a part-time commentator for the Montreal Expos in 1972.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t overlook Robinson’s passionate efforts in the 1960s’ Civil Rights Movement. He once said Robinson was “a legend and symbol in his own time” who “challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration.”

From 1957 to 1964, Robinson served as the vice president of personnel for Chock Full O’ Nuts Coffee. He was the first African-American vice president of a major American corporation.

During most off-seasons, Robinson went on a vaudeville and speaking tour of the South, where he would answer pre-arranged questions about his life. He actually made more money on these tours than he did through his contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers!

Robinson played himself in The Jackie Robinson Story, a biopic about his life released in 1950. Academy Award-nominated actress Ruby Dee played Robinson’s wife, Rachel “Rae” Isum Robinson.

The Man Behind the Recent PBS Documentary

Noted filmmaker Ken Burns (The Civil WarBaseball) recently completed the 4-hour documentary Jackie Robinson for PBS, which debuted April 11 and 12, 2016.

Burns, in Austin, TX for the annual South By Southwest Interactive Festival in March, was recently interviewed by Austin AmericanStatesman reporter, Cedric Golden, and spoke about his latest documentary:

Golden: “What are the false stories that are out there about Jackie?”

Burns: “That Pee Wee Reese threw his arm around him in that first year at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. There’s a statue outside Great American Ballpark, and it just didn’t happen.

Jackie was playing first base, and Pee Wee was playing shortstop. He wouldn’t have come over and done that. There’s no mention of it in Jackie’s autobiography. There’s no mention of it in the white press. There’s no mention of it in the black press. If it had happened, they would have done 10 or 15 different related stories about what a great gesture it was.

It’s no pun intended, but it’s just white people wanting to have some skin in the game and feeling like they had participated. It was probably years after that, when Jackie had moved to second base and they had been old teammates for a while, they might have put their arms around each other, and then the story migrated back in time.

It’s really important to double check. I think it came from Red Barber and probably Roger Kahn, who wrote The Boys of Summer, and it just isn’t true. We wish it was true, but it didn’t happen.”

Robinson passed away from a heart attack on October 24, 1972 in Stamford, Connecticut, at the age of 53.

Friday, and every year on April 15, baseball fans get their chance to put their collective arms around Jackie, and all he represented.

If we truly want to be a color-blind society, our recognition of Jackie Robinson’s contributions shouldn’t stop at the now-hackneyed phrase, “breaking the color barrier.” That phrase is fine for the history books, and has its place. But, true fans of baseball, true fans of Jackie, and true fans of each of us becoming the tolerant, understanding, and all-embracing people we all say we want to be should celebrate what he was on the baseball diamond.

Celebrate the vast collection of varied talents in one man, and how he used them on the diamond; if anything, he broke the talent barrier. Possibly the first true 5-tool player, any modern player who possesses Robinson’s speed, power, hitting skill, arm strength, and fielding prowess owes a tip of the cap to #42.

Tip your cap, Friday, to the Great One: The baseball player who personified the words “grace,” “dignity,” “pride,” and “respect.” He did so certainly while on the field, but also spent a lifetime living these values for those who had eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to move beyond, and accept.

Perhaps the most apt word that might describe Jackie Robinson is “fortitude.”

The dictionary defines “fortitude” as “mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously.”

Funny thing about “42”: When you say it, it almost sounds like “fortitude.”

That can’t be an accident. 

Related: Salute to 42: Willie Wells, Rev. Downs, and the Texas Influence on Jackie Robinson

Brad Kyle

Brad Kyle

Here I am, meeting with Nolan Ryan at Dell Diamond in Round Rock, TX. One of us is trying to convince the other to take his 90 mph fastball, and get back into the game.

Needless to say, I've decided to spend my golden years, instead, crooning Sinatra at nursing homes, while reflecting on a life well-lived in the classroom, spinning rock'n'roll in '70s radio stations, and peddling wax in the record biz.

I'm a Houston native, having attended 'Stro games in Colt Stadium, the beloved Astrodome, and Minute Maid.

Join me at TRS for full Astros coverage, minor league peeks, player profiles, interviews, MLB historical perspective, and surprises!
Brad Kyle