LOS ANGELES - Jackie Robinson, UCLA's first four-sport letterwinner, became the first African-American to play in the major leagues 67 years ago today - April 15, 1947 - making his major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Robinson competed on UCLA's baseball team in 1940 and also represented the Bruins on the football, basketball and track and field teams from 1939-41.
Major League Baseball will celebrate Robinson's historic achievement today with the 11th annual Jackie Robinson Day. All players at the major league level, and on-field personnel, will be wearing the No. 42.
The UCLA baseball team has played at Jackie Robinson Stadium since 1981. Named in Robinson's honor, the Bruins' home baseball facility has played host to NCAA Regionals the past four seasons, in addition to the NCAA Los Angeles Super Regional in 2010 and 2012.
Born in Cairo, Ga., on January 31, 1919, Robinson and his family and moved to Los Angeles as a youngster. After moving to southern California, the Robinson family quickly gained recognition for its fantastic athletic abilities, most notably during the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin where older brother Mack Robinson received a silver medal in the 200-meter dash behind the legendary Jesse Owens.
Robinson was a four-sport letterwinner, starring in Westwood on the football team (1939, 1940), on the basketball team (1940, 1941), with the track and field team (1940) and as a baseball player (1940).
As UCLA's shortstop in 1940, statistics indicate that baseball was the sport with which he had the most trouble. Robinson posted a .097 batting average the one year he played baseball for the Bruins. He excelled at the three other sports, earning All Pac-10 honors in football, being named the West Coast Conference MVP in basketball, and establishing a long jump record.
Nevertheless, due to his slick fielding and keen baserunning, fans found Robinson in the starting lineup the majority of the season.
In 1942, Robinson decided to put athletics on hiatus and enlisted in the U.S. Army. In the face of humiliating discrimination, Robinson took his first major step toward dismantling racial barriers. Serving in Texas, Robinson was court-martialed for refusing to move to the back of a military bus. He was eventually acquitted and given an honorable discharge.
His military career finished, Robinson decided to give baseball another try. The Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Baseball League offered him a contract in 1944. Robinson quickly caught the attention of opposing managers, and more importantly, Major League scouts. Brooklyn Dodger President Branch Rickey signed him to a minor league contract with a Montreal farm club in 1945.
Robinson started the year on a hot streak, quickly earning the respect of the French-Canadian fans in Montreal. He completed the year by winning the International League batting title, hitting .349 in 124 games and leading his team to the championship. His success allowed Rickey to decide that everything was in order for a groundbreaking debut with the Dodgers.
On April 10, 1947, Rickey announced that Brooklyn had purchased Robinson's contract. Five days later, Robinson grounded out against Johnny Sain of the Boston Braves, officially recording the first major league at-bat by an African-American. Robinson struggled early in the season, but turned it around when he finally gained the respect of his teammates during a heated series with the Philadelphia Phillies. Robinson regained his confidence, going on to win the first ever Rookie of the Year Award, an honor that the National League renamed in his memory in 1987.
During his 10-year career, Robinson compiled a .311 batting average and one National League MVP award, while playing in six World Series and six All-Star games. In addition to being the first African-America to play in the majors, he was the first to win the MVP award and the first to be elected to the Hall of Fame (1962).
In 1957, the Dodgers traded Jackie to the New York Giants for pitcher Dick Littlefield and $30,000. Partially in response to this surprising move, Robinson decided it was time to end his playing days. That same year, Jackie was diagnosed with diabetes, a disease that would lead to his death in 1972.
Prior to his passing on June 4, 1972, Robinson's No. 42 was retired by the Dodgers along with Roy Campanella's No. 39 and Sandy Koufax's No. 32. Following his death, Robinson continued to be honored through various mediums of praise. On February 2, 1981, the finishing touches were put on Jackie Robinson Stadium, the current home of the Bruins. On August 2, 1982, the U. S. Post Office issued the "Jackie Robinson Black Heritage" stamp featuring the first baseball player ever depicted on a United States stamp. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan acknowledged Robinson's accomplishments by awarding him the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.
Most recently, in March 2005, Robinson was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. The award, which was commissioned by Congress after the American Revolution as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions, was presented by President George W. Bush to members of Robinson's family.
The 1997 season marked the 50th anniversary of Robinson's heroic struggle. Major League Baseball honored him by dedicating the entire season to his memory, with a commemorative patch and the retirement of his number. No other player in the future of Major League Baseball will ever wear No. 42. His number is the first retired every organization, rather than an individual team, in any of the nation's major sports.
JACKIE ROBINSON AT A GLANCE
The first African-American to play major league baseball (April 15, 1947) ... his widow Rachel, a UCLA alumna, founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which has funded college scholarships for deserving African-American students ... a four-sport letterman at UCLA - football (1939 and 1940), basketball (1940 and 1941), track and field (1940) and baseball (1940).
Led the nation in punt return average in both 1939 (16.5 yards) and 1940 (21.0 yards) ... his career average of 18.8 yards ranks fourth in NCAA history ... as a senior in 1940, he led UCLA in rushing (383 yards), passing (444 yards), total offense (827 yards), scoring (36 points) and punt returns (21.0 average) ... in his two-year career, he rushed for 954 yards (5.9 average) and passed for 449 yards.
Led the Southern Division of the Pacific Coast Conference in scoring in both 1940 (12.4 average in 12 league games) and 1941 (11.1 average in 12 league games).
UCLA Track and Field
Missed most of the 1940 season while playing with the Bruin baseball team but won the NCAA title in the broad jump (24-10 1/4) after winning the Pacific Coast Conference meet with a leap of 25-0.
In 1940, batted just .097 during the California Intercollegiate Baseball Association season ... in his first game (March 10, 1940), he had four hits and stole four bases, including home once.
Major League Baseball
Played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947 to 1957 ... selected National League Rookie of the Year in 1947 (award is now named in his honor) ... selected National League Most Valuable Player in 1949.
Became Vice-President at Chock Full O'Nuts in 1957 ... served as a member of the national board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ... selected UCLA "Alumnus of the Year" in 1962 ... inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 ... was instrumental in the founding of the Freedom National Bank in Harlem, N.Y. ... became the first African-American baseball commentator when hired by ABC-TV in 1965 ... passed away on Oct. 24, 1972, in Stamford, Conn. ... selected as a charter member of UCLA's Athletic Hall of Fame in 1984 ... awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan in 1984 ... his No. 42 was retired by Major League Baseball in 1997 ... awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush on March 2, 2005.