On this date 73 years ago, Jackie Robinson made his Major League debut as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. This debut was unlike any other, as Robinson broke the color barrier that previously existed in baseball. The lasting impact of Robinson becoming a major leaguer is worth celebrating for the rest of time, and under normal circumstances players around the league would don the number 42 in commemoration of the man who transformed baseball for every subsequent generation since 1947.
Jackie Robinson exists in our minds as a heroic figure whose profound impact on baseball makes him legendary, but often overlooked is the success that he found after breaking the color barrier. Robinson compiled 61.7 bWAR in just ten seasons, producing a .311/.409/.474 batting line with 137 home runs and 197 stolen bases. The Cairo, GA native captured a Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, an MVP in 1949, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
While circumstances may prevent Major League Baseball from honoring Jackie Robinson Day in customary fashion, baseball players and fans alike should take time today to appreciate the hardships that Robinson endured while paving a way for every minority athlete in his wake. Happy Jackie Robinson Day everyone.
Check out this story by Mark Bowman, which connects Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron across two generations:
So as the baseball world celebrates Jackie Robinson Day, it’s important to remember what occurred in Atlanta both on April 8, 1974, and April 8, 1949.
On the more recent date, Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully reacted to Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record by delivering these words: “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol.”
Exactly 25 years earlier, three miles north of where Aaron hit his historic 715th homer, Robinson also created history when he and Brooklyn Dodgers teammate Roy Campanella became the first African-American players to play in an integrated professional game in the Deep South. The Dodgers began a three-game exhibition series against the Minor League Atlanta Crackers at Ponce de Leon Park that day.
“It was more than a game. It was definitely an event,” said longtime Braves usher Walter Banks, who was a 9-year-old Atlanta resident when Robinson came to town. “I’ve been so proud of it over the years because things like that just didn’t happen.”
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The story behind players wearing number 42 on Jackie Robinson Day and how it came to fruition. In short, thank Ken Griffey Jr.:
How did this come about?
We can thank Ken Griffey Jr. for all of it.
Griffey was the first player to come up with the idea of wearing No. 42 on April 15. Interestingly, he implemented it twice.
To trace the first time he broached the idea, we have to go all the way back to April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s Major League debut, and the day Selig retired his number. Griffey, who was playing for the Mariners at the time, asked that his uniform number be flip-flopped, switching from No. 24 to 42.