UCLA's Jackie Robinson to Be Honored Nationwide
This Sunday, April 15, marks the 60th anniversary of former UCLA standout Jackie Robinson becoming the first African-American Major League Baseball player. Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, and will be honored at major league ballparks nationwide this weekend.
The UCLA baseball program honored Robinson prior to its game against Washington on Saturday, April 7. Prior to first pitch, fans were asked to stand for a moment of reflection as the public address announcer highlighted several of Robinson's accomplishments, both at UCLA and with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Born January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Ga., Robinson was the first four-sport letterman in UCLA history - football (1939 and 1940), basketball (1940 and 1941), track and field (1940) and baseball (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.
As a youngster, his mother (Mallie) moved the Robinson family to Pasadena, Calif., after his father abdandoned the family. After the move to southern California, the Robinson family quickly gained recognition for their fantastic athletic abilties, the climax coming during the 1936 Berlin Olympics where older brother Mack Robinson received a silver medal in the 200-meter dash behind the legendary Jesse Owens.
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.
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
UCLA Track and Field
Major League Baseball
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