Today, all the players in both leagues are wearing number 42 in homage to the first Black man to set foot on a major league baseball diamond. He changed everything, and his contribution is properly recognized.
On Tuesday, April 15, 1947, Jack Roosevelt Robinson played his first game for the hitherto white-only Brooklyn Dodgers at the long-defunct Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. He was the son of a tenant farmer and the grandson of a slave. George Will said that if Martin Luther King is the most important Black man of the last century, Jackie Robinson is a close second, an example of dignity and courage that could equal King’s own. No less than Ted Williams said that Robinson showed “tons and tons of guts” for taking, over the first three years of his major league career, the verbal and sometimes physical abuse of opposing players. He had the strength and belief he derived from his mother, from the example of his brothers, and from a character that can only be called his own. As one retired Negro Leaguer said “[His strength] killed him.” Jackie died at age 53, with prematurely white hair, a limp, and a worn-out heart, all the products of diabetes and his own gifts for endurance. He lost a son to drug addiction and to his ongoing struggle to see Black men in baseball management.
I know I saw him play in the mid-1950s but I can’t remember it. I only wish I had more than the films Ken Burns had left us. They will have to suffice.