On this day in history, Jackie Robsinon donned his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform (number 42) for the first time. His major league debut brought an end to approximately sixty years of segregation in professional baseball, known as the baseball color line.
In 1956, Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey recalled that summer, and what went into his decision to choose Robinson to cross the color line. He mentioned all the barriers, and how important it had been to pick someone who could withstand both the scrutiny and the fierce opposition:
I couldn’t come with a man to break down a tradition that had in it centered and concentrated all the prejudices of a great many people north and south unless he was good. He must justify himself upon the positive principle of merit. He must be a great player. I must not risk an excuse of trying to do something in the sociological field, or in the race field, just because of sort of a “holier than thou.” I must be sure that the man was good on the field, but more dangerous to me, at that time, and even now, is the wrong man off the field. It didn’t matter to me so much in choosing a man off the field that he was temperamental, — righteously subject to resentments. I wanted a man of exceptional intelligence, a man who was able to grasp and control the responsibilities of himself to his race and could carry that load. That was the greatest danger point of all.”
Rickey lucked out with Jackie Robinson. He not only racked up records for his baseball prowess, such as the examples shown in this list.
• Named National League Rookie of the Year in 1947.
• Led the National League in stolen bases in 1947 and 1949.
• Led second basemen in double plays 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1952.
• Selected as the National League MVP in 1949
• Won the 1949 batting title with a .342.
• National League All-Star Team, 1949-1954.
• Had a career batting average of .311 with the Dodgers, .333 in All-Star games Led the Dodgers to six World Series and one World Series Championship in a 10-year span.
More importantly, he had the character to withstand the slings and arrows that constantly assailed him, and to rise above them. He quickly won the respect and enthusiasm of the fans, and gave hope to millions of people of color that the lines of segregation might not be so rigid after all.