A century after the Negro Leagues in American baseball was founded, it is being elevated to its rightful place in history – the major league.
On Wednesday, Major League Baseball said it was “correcting a longtime oversight in the game’s history,” by changing the designation of the leagues that were launched in 1920 and ran until Brooklyn second baser Jackie Robinson prompted desegregation in 1947. The league officially ended in 1948.
When a 28-year-old Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers for the first time in 1947, he made history.
Robinson was the first Black player in major league baseball that century, 63 years after Moses Fleetwood “Fleet” Walker took to the field for the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884, and he became the face of integration in the league.
Over his 10-year career with the Dodgers, Robinson demonstrated his dazzling athletic superiority, hitting an average of .311, and his absolute grace on the field. Despite being repeatedly bombarded with racist insults and actions from players, fans and management, Robinson maintained his cool, exercised self-control and got the respect of people from all over the country and world.
All the while he excelled on the pitch and was named Rookie of the Year and two years later, coming into his own, he was named Most Valuable Player of the league.
From a young age Robinson was clearly an extremely talented sportsperson, being the first to letter in four sports at UCLA: football, basketball, baseball and long jump. Determined to be the best and win at any activity he tackled, Robinson also became known for his passion in standing up to injustice and not shying away from a brawl when subjected to racism from white competitors and classmates.
Robinson received an honorable discharge from the army in 1944, not long after he refused a driver’s order to sit at the back of the bus – a segregationist practice in place at the time. The event is one of the many that defined him as a leader both on and off the field during the beginning of the civil rights movement.
“We ask for nothing special,” he told a white sportswriter in New Orleans. “We ask only to be permitted to live as you live, and as our nation’s Constitution provides.”
After the army, Robinson was selected by the Negro Leagues’ Kansas City Monarchs and spent a year there before being scouted by the Dodgers President Branch Rickey. At the Dodgers, Robinson wore the 42 jersey and in 1997 he became the first Black player to have his jersey retired.
After a decade-long career with the Dodgers, Robinson retired and went into politics and business, becoming an active member of the NAACP. In a life cut short due to a failing body, Robinson died from a heart attack in 1972 at age 53.
The star famously said: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” And there is no doubt the legendary Robinson impacted countless lives, and continues to do so today.
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