Movie Still, "The Jackie Robinson Story," Jackie Robinson as himself, 1950, Courtesy Library of Congress
"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives." --Jackie Robinson, #42
An exceptional all-around ballplayer, Jackie Robinson is best known for making history when he became the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues on April 15, 1947. Withstanding harassment from both players and fans, Robinson went on to become the Rookie of the Year and helped the Brooklyn Dodgers win the pennant that year. Seemingly always on base with his lifetime batting average of .311 and .409 on-base percentage, Robinson electrified fans with his base running. Always a threat to steal home, one would hear...
Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
Did he hit it? Yeah, and that ain't all.
He stole home.
Yes, yes, Jackie's real gone.
...coming from the radio, the song "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?" by Woodrow Buddy Johnson & Count Basie (1949). Robinson drew 740 career walks and scored 947 runs in his 10 major league seasons.
Robinson's best season was 1949, when he was voted the National League's MVP as the Dodgers' second-baseman, leading the league with a .342 BA and 37 steals, and scoring 122 runs while knocking in 124. He was a 6-time All-Star and led the Dodgers to 6 National League pennants, including a 1955 World Series championship over the Yankees. Robinson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility.
Before playing in the Major Leagues, Robinson became the first athlete in UCLA history to letter in four sports (baseball, basketball, football, and track) in the same year. In 1945, he played short-stop for the Negro Leagues' Kansas City Monarchs, followed by a year with the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers' top minor league team, where he led the International League with a .349 BA and 40 steals.
On December 13, 1956, the Brooklyn Dodgers traded Jackie Robinson to the rival New York Giants for pitcher Dick Littlefield and $35,000 in cash. Dodger fans were outraged that their team would trade Robinson to their rival Dodgers. But less than a month later, Robinson announced his retirement, voiding the trade.
Robinson died from heart problems and diabetes complications on October 24, 1972. In his last public appearance during the 1972 World Series, he pushed Major League Baseball to hire a black manager, which they eventually did two years later when the Cleveland Indians hired Frank Robinson as the first African-American manager.
On April 15, 1997--the 50th anniversary of his first game, Major League Baseball retired his jersey from all of baseball. A true American hero.