Jackie Robinson broke modern MLB color barrier 77 years ago

Seventy-seven years ago, Jackie Robinson trotted out to his position at first base as the Brooklyn Dodgers opened their 1947 season at Ebbets Field. What seemed like a casual act was actually a groundbreaking moment in Major League Baseball history.

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On April 15, 1947, Robinson broke MLB’s modern-day color barrier. As they do every April 15, the Dodgers and every MLB team wore Robinson’s No. 42 to recognize his major league debut, The New York Times reported.

The Jackie Robinson Foundation was founded by Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson, the year after the Hall of Famer died, according to the newspaper.

The foundation’s scholarship program provides on average $32,000 over four years to 242 students, according to the Times. The organization also engages and provides resources for more than 4,000 other students. MLB and the foundation have partnered on various internship and full-time job opportunities, and MLB and its clubs are estimated to have donated approximately $20 million to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, according to MLB.com.

A crowd of 26,623 fans attended Robinson’s debut in 1947. He went 0-for-3 in his debut, won 5-3 by the Dodgers. He made the game’s first putout, receiving a throw from third base rookie Spider Jorgensen to retire Boston leadoff hitter Dick Culler.

He would later score the go-ahead run in the seventh inning on Pete Reiser’s two-run double.

“I wasn’t at all excited or scared,” Robinson told Oscar Fraley of United Press International. “I was as loose as could be. And I can’t honestly say that this was my biggest thrill in baseball. That came, I guess, when I signed with Montreal.

“But I would have liked a couple of hits.”

Robinson was the first Black player in the major leagues since Moses Fleet Walker played 42 games for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association in 1884. It was Walker’s only year in the majors, and no Black player had been on a major league roster after that until Robinson debuted in 1947.

A ticket stub from Robinson’s debut smashed a memorabilia record in late February 2022, selling for $480,000 in a Heritage Auctions sale, making it the most expensive sporting event ticket ever sold in an auction, Sports Collectors Daily reported.

Red Barber, the Southern-born radio broadcaster for the Dodgers, recalled that listeners would be waiting to hear “what (he) said as well as what (he) didn’t say.”

In Judith Hiltner and James Walker’s biography, “Red Barber: The Life and Legend of a Broadcasting Legend,” the announcer’s producer, Tom Villante, told the authors that Barber “faced a dilemma” that day.

“How do I handle it? I’m going to handle it like I handle any other ballplayer,” Villante quoted Barber saying. “I don’t say he’s an Italian, I don’t say he’s a Greek, I don’t say he’s Polish, and I’m not going to say Jackie’s a Negro.”

“Red referred to him as a person,” Villante said.

Despite the inauspicious debut in 1947, Robinson would play in 151 games. He hit .297 and won the first Rookie of the Year Award. He led the National League in stolen bases with 29 and collected 175 hits as the Dodgers reached the World Series.

Robinson would play 10 seasons, mostly at second base. He finished with a career average of .311. He played in six World Series for the Dodgers and retired after the 1956 season. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

Twenty-seven years ago, on April 15, 1997, baseball retired Robinson’s No. 42, in a dramatic announcement made at Shea Stadium in New York by Commissioner Bud Selig, who was flanked by Rachel Robinson; and President Bill Clinton.

Players paid tribute to Robinson in an Aug. 27, 2020, game between the New York Mets and Florida Marlins, one of seven games that had been postponed following violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin. As Michael Wacha took the mound for the Mets, both teams remained silent for 42 seconds, before leaving a Black Lives Matter shirt on home plate.

Jonathan Eig, writing in his 2007 book, “Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season,” notes that Robinson knew about the significance of his start. But he managed to keep it all in perspective.

Robinson told his wife as he left the McAlpin Hotel in Manhattan to go to Ebbets Field, “Just in case you have trouble picking me out, I’ll be wearing number 42.”

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