Saturday, October 24, 2009

Remembering Jackie Robinson

Last year, Barack Obama made history as the first black man elected president.

That certainly was something that many Americans never thought they would see in their lifetimes. But, although it was a groundbreaking accomplishment, it probably couldn't have happened if many other black Americans hadn't broken the color barrier in other areas over the years.

As is often the case, changes in sports foreshadowed social and political changes. Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion and John Taylor became the first black to win a gold medal in the Olympics 100 years before Obama's victory.

And, in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black to play major league baseball.

Shortly before the start of the 1947 season, the Dodgers called up Robinson, launching a 10–year major league career.

Robinson wasn't destined to be the career home run leader, but in the years since his breakthrough, two other black men have eclipsed Babe Ruth's career mark. He didn't leave the game as the career leader in hits or RBIs or batting average.

Robinson's legacy, aside from the courage and grace he showed in the face of verbal and physical abuse when he crossed the color line, is mostly images from his career. One of the most famous moments was captured in the film clip that is attached to this post.

In the 1955 World Series, Robinson stole home in the first game. It's unusual to see someone steal home, especially in the postseason, when the margin for error is so slim. But the 1955 World Series was unusual. It was the only world championship the Dodgers won in all the years they were in Brooklyn.

Anyway, Robinson retired a few years later. He was in his late 20s when he broke the color barrier, and he played 10 years in the major leagues before health problems began to catch up with him. He died of a heart attack on this day 37 years ago.

Ten years before he died, Robinson became the first black to be elected to baseball's Hall of Fame. As the one who broke the color barrier, I'm sure his name would be remembered even if the Hall of Fame hadn't formally inducted him.

But it was a reminder that he was about more than just being a racial pioneer.

He also happened to be a darn good ballplayer.

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