Major League Baseball is celebrating Jackie Robinson Day today, 65 years after Jackie broke the color barrier in baseball. All players and coaches will be wearing Robinson's number 42 today.
I really can't tell you anything you don't already know about Robinson. None of us can imagine what he went through, dealing with incredible stupidity everyday. Dealing with it all with class and dignity, that takes a very special man. One that deserves to be celebrated.
As a player, ignoring his place in history, he was special. He didn't get to the majors (because of the stupidity of the times) until the age of 28 and still he had a 10 year career with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He retired with a batting line of .311/.409/.474. He stole 197 bases, including 19 (!) steals of home. He played good defense at second base most of his career. He won the Rookie of the Year in 1947, NL MVP in 1949 and made 6 All-Star teams.
Generally, sports are just sports. Jackie on the other hand, was more important than just baseball. He gave a face to the whole civil rights movement. He changed it from being just a political issue something that people could understand as more than just an idea. It is hard to believe that such a relatively short time ago the world was so much different.
We are running out of people that could give us a first hand account of Jackie's time as a ball player. He died far too young, just 53, but there is is a lot of information about him on the internet. His Wikipedia page is long and is a interesting read.
I love this story from the New York Times, back from 1997, talking to Pee Wee Reese about a time that Reese just stood beside Robinson, when Jackie was being heckled and cursed from the stands. Just by standing with him Reese said this is my teammate and made things just a little better for Jackie. There is a great children's book about that moment.
John Thorn has part one of the story on how Branch Rickey went about signing Robinson. Jordan Bastian reminds us that the first black in the American League deserves some notice too.