Image (c) Ewen Roberts
The story of Jackie Robinson is a familiar one to baseball fans.
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson played his first regular season game for Major League Baseball, breaking a color barrier in professional sports. A trickle and then a flood of Negro League players followed him.
Jackie Robinson was a World War II veteran and former UCLA athlete before Branch Rickey signed him to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mountains of articles exist relaying the sainted history of Rickey and what he went through to sign Robinson, but Robinson is the one who endured. Robinson survived insults, an attempt by fellow Dodgers to force him off the team, and death threats from “fans” of the game all while hitting .311/.409/.883 according to baseball-reference.com
1997 marked the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s integration of professional sports. The league responded by retiring his number across all teams. They grandfathered in players who already wore the 42, but those players slowly retired. A few players approached the Commissioner’s Office in 2007 to “unretire” 42 on April 15. They wanted to wear Jackie Robinson’s number to honor his achievement. Two years later, the Commissioner requested that all teams wear Robinson’s 42 on April 15th.
68 years after Robinson integrated professional sports, every player in MLB will go on the field wearing his number.
Jackie Robinson has been gone since 1972, but his widow, Rachel, is interviewed during the national TV broadcast every year. Vin Scully, the announcer for the Dodgers, who called Jackie Robinson’s games, will tell stories about his playing days. Baseball teams across the country will acknowledge Negro League players and African-American WWII vets on Jackie Robinson Day.
Baseball is a game that often looks to the past. We compare players to Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Joe DiMaggio. We still argue about the Designated Hitter. Jackie Robinson Day is a celebration of a day in which Major League Baseball stopped looking into its past and actively shaped its future. Every Jackie Robinson Day is celebration of his extraordinary life. We honor a man who seized a chance given to him and took it to unimagined heights. Finally, we remember those who were subjected to a prejudice that prevented them from following their dreams to play baseball on the greatest stage of the day.
We remember Jackie Robinson, we remember those who came after him, we remember those before him who never got the chance. Jackie Robinson Day honors all of these things, but most importantly, Jackie Robinson Day remembers the courage of a man who stood tall under the most crushing of circumstances.