Friday, April 15, 2022, is Jackie Robinson Day for Major League Baseball. As every baseball fan knows, Jackie Robinson was the first African American to play professional baseball in the Major Leagues (in the modern era, after 1900).* All of MLB recognizes that day, and all players wear Jackie’s number 42.
Until that day in 1947, no Major League team had allowed an African American player to join their ranks. One owner wanted to change all that, and on April 15, 1947, Jack Roosevelt Robinson took the field on Opening Day for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was the start of a fabulous season, career and life-changing legacy for Jackie Robinson.
Here are some interesting facts about Jackie Robinson and the day named after him in Major League Baseball.
Summer 1945: Worst sales pitch ever, or the best?
Branch Rickey, owner and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, had a vision to bring an African American player to the Majors. He knew two things: 1) He’d face fierce opposition from the other owners, and 2) it would take a great baseball player and a great man to make his grand experiment work. His sales pitch to Robinson was not sugarcoated. In August 1945, he met Branch Rickey, who spelled out the challenge that lay ahead of Jackie…if he were willing to be part of history. “I need a man who will take abuse, insults, in other words, carry the flag for the race.”
“Mr. Rickey,” Robinson asked, “do you want a ballplayer who’s afraid to fight back?” Rickey responded with the challenge: “I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.” Jackie, understanding everything that was at stake, agreed to be part of Mr. Rickey’s “gamble.”
April 18, 1946: You can’t keep a good man down.
Robinson was no different from other ballplayers in one regard—he went to the Minor Leagues for a year of seasoning...and to get a preview of what was to come. Playing for the Montreal Royals, a Dodger farm team, he made his Minor League debut in a game in Jersey City on April 18th.
Call it his first real Jackie Robinson Day.
He put on a show with four hits (including a three-run home run), four RBI and two stolen bases. He also scored twice, when his dancing down the line from third caused the pitcher to balk in a run both times. For the season, Robinson hit .349 and led his team to the “Little World Series,” which they won.
Montreal’s manager knew Jackie deserved a chance to take the next step. He said, “(Robinson is) a player who must go to the Majors. He’s a big-league ballplayer, a good team hustler and a real gentleman.”
April 15, 1947: The start of an amazing season and a new award.
It was Opening Day, and a new player who wore number 42 trotted out to play first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Of the more than 26,000 fans in the stands, more than half were African Americans who had come out to see history. The Dodgers won, even though Jackie didn’t get a hit in his debut.
As the season wore on, Jackie heated up. Of course, so did the opposition of other teams and players who didn’t want him in Major League Baseball. The insults, threats, beanings and dirty play lasted all season.
But so did Robinson, and so did the Dodgers. Jackie was an attraction because he was the exciting player Rickey hoped he could be. The Dodgers set a National League attendance record for a home team, drawing 1,800,000 fans. On the road, they drew even more fans, setting another NL record.
Robinson came through his first season fantastically, despite all the challenges, physically and mentally. He hit nearly .300, stole 29 bases and helped the Dodgers win the NL pennant. He was also named the winner of a new award given by the Sporting News during his first season: Rookie of the Year.
Jackie by the numbers: A winner all the way.
Jackie Robinson wasn’t a one-season wonder. He won the MVP in the 1949, during which he hit a League-leading .349 and stole 29 bases while leading Brooklyn to the NL pennant. It wasn’t until 1955, his next-to-last season, that he would be on a Brooklyn team that finally defeated the Yankees in the World Series. On that team with him—other than Dodger greats Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider and Gil Hodges—were four African American ballplayers: future Hall of Famers Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, Jim Gilliam and Cuban-born Sandy Amoros.
Jackie Robinson Day and his number.
- April 15, 1997: At a ceremony at Shea Stadium, Bud Selig announces that Jackie Robinson’s jersey number, 42, will be retired in perpetuity, meaning no teams will issue that number moving forward. Rachel Robinson is alongside the Commissioner, as is President Bill Clinton. Players wearing number 42 during this time are allowed to wear it until they retire with that team. Mariano Rivera of the Yankees is the last active player to wear #42 during a season. He retires after the 2013 season.
- April 15, 2004: Commissioner Bud Selig announces that April 15, 2004, will be recognized across all of Major League Baseball as Jackie Robinson Day.
- April 15, 2005: The Commissioner declares that every April 15th will now officially be known as Jackie Robinson Day.
- April 15, 2007: Ken Griffey Jr., playing with the Cincinnati Reds, requests and receives permission from Bud Selig to wear #42 in a personal tribute to Jackie Robinson. Selig encourages other teams to allow a player or players to wear the number. In all, 240 players and personnel wear the number that day.
- April 15, 2007, 2008: Any player requesting to wear #42 on Jackie Robinson Day can do so.
- April 15, 2009: Beginning that season and continuing till today, all uniformed MLB personnel wear #42 on Jackie Robinson Day.
Jackie Robinson Day 2022
On the 75th anniversary of the day that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, all players will be wearing a blue-colored number 42 on April 15th, recognizing the only team he played for in the Majors, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rachel Robinson, who is 99 years old, said, “Our family is thrilled to see the many wonderful tributes to Jack’s historic moment 75 years ago. We will continue to honor his memory and legacy through our work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation.” Jackie Robinson was born in 1919 and passed away in 1972. He retired after the 1956 season and was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962. *There was an African American named Moses Walker who played half a season in 1884 for the Toledo Blue Stockings in the American Association, which would later become the American League. In 1889, the American Association and the National League agreed to prevent any African American player from playing in the Majors. Jackie Robinson broke that barrier.
SOURCES: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_Robinson_Day; milb.com/milb/jackierobinson.jsp; thedenverchannel.com/sports/42-today-heres-why; baseballreference.com/Jackie_Robinson; “Baseball: An Illustrated History.” Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns; Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1994; baseballhall.org/discover/rickey-takes-control-of-dodgers; bleacherreport.com/moses-fleetwood-walker