Last week, I wrote about a recent visit to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
In 2017, a statue of Jackie Robinson was installed there to honor the legendary athlete who grew up in the city and played in the stadium in high school and junior college.
Robinson excelled in football, basketball, track and tennis. But it was on the baseball diamond where most people know of him.
Robinson is not only a baseball icon, but a civil rights pioneer as well.
What he did was before Rosa Parks. Before the Little Rock Nine. Before Martin Luther King, Jr.
In fact, on one of the many plaques that surround the statue at the stadium, there is the following quote from King about Robinson: “A pilgrim that walked in the lonesome byways towards the high road of freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.”
From the 1920s into the 1940s, the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team and Negro League basketball enjoyed a great deal success. But their stars were not allowed to play with or against white teams.
Very few individual black athletes had broken though into mainstream America, but some had a lot of success when given the opportunity.
Jack Johnson reigned as heavyweight champion of the world from 1908-1915. Joe Louis won that title in 1937 and held it till 1949.
Jesse Owens dominated the 1936 Olympics, in Nazi Germany no less, laying waste to Adolf Hitler’s master race nonsense.
Interestingly, Jackie Robinson’s older brother, Mack Robinson, won a silver medal at the 1936 Olympics, finishing just behind Owens in the 200 meters.
By the mid-1940s, several major league teams were looking to break baseball’s color barrier, which had existed for decades, barring black players from the all-white league.
Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey found the man to do it in Jackie Robinson.
Robinson had been playing in the Negro Leagues since 1945, however, he was not the best or most well-known black player.
But Rickey knew that Robinson was the man who could handle the enormous pressure that would come from integrating Major League Baseball.
Robinson ended up being the perfect choice. In 1947, he won the very first Rookie of the Year Award. Forty years later, MLB renamed the annual honor the Jackie Robinson Award.
Robinson played 10 years for the Dodgers. He was a six-time all-star, won the NL MVP in 1949 and won a World Series in 1955.
In 1962, Robinson was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Dodgers retired his number 42 in 1972, just a few months before he passed away at the age of 53.
In 1997, marking the 50th anniversary of his historic debut, MLB retired number 42 across all of the major league teams.
Beginning in 2004, MLB began celebrating Jackie Robinson Day each year on April 15. That is the date he made his major league debut in 1947.
On this day, players, managers, coaches and umpires all wear 42 in his honor.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of his birth. All Americans, not just sports fans, should be thankful for Jackie Robinson.