On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson becomes the first African-American in the major leagues when he plays his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born into a family of sharecroppers on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. He attended UCLA, where he became the first athlete to letter in four varsity sports: baseball, basketball, football and track. He served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1944 and was honorably discharged after facing insubordination charges for refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus.
After leaving the military, Robinson played shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League. In 1945, he was recruited by Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey, who was determined to end the unwritten segregation rule in the majors. In 1946, Robinson joined the Dodgers’ farm team, the Montreal Royals, and went on to lead the league in batting. On April 15, 1947, 28-year-old Jackie Robinson made his Major League Baseball debut with the Dodgers, against the Boston Braves, in front of more than 25,000 spectators at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. Robinson played first base and went zero for three at the plate.
During his first season in the majors, Robinson encountered racism from opposing teams and fans, as well as some of his own teammates. However, the abuse didn’t affect his performance on the baseball field. Robinson played in 151 games, hit .297, stole more bases than anyone else in the National League and was awarded the first-ever Rookie of the Year title. In 1949, Robinson, who had switched to playing second base, was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. The next year he became the Dodgers’ highest paid player, earning a salary of $35,000. In 1955, Robinson helped the Dodgers defeat the New York Yankees to win the World Series. He retired from baseball after playing his last game on October 10, 1956, with a career batting average of .311, 1,518 hits and 137 home runs.
After leaving baseball, Robinson worked as a business executive and continued his involvement in civil rights causes. On October 24, 1972, he died at age 53 from heart problems and complications related to diabetes. Robinson became the first African-American inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility. In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of his historic first game in the majors, Robinson’s uniform number–42–was retired by Major League Baseball.