Mitchell & Ness Salutes Jackie Robinson
"Before Jackie Robinson broke the color line, I wasn't permitted even to think about being a professional baseball player. I once mentioned something to my father about it, and he said, "Ain't no colored ballplayers." There were the Negro Leagues, of course, where the Dodgers discovered Jackie, but my mother, like most, would rather her son be a schoolteacher than a Negro Leaguer. All that changed when Jackie put on No. 42 and started stealing bases in a Brooklyn uniform."
- Hank Aaron, TIME Magazine, 2000
In 1947, Branch Rickey, GM and president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, saw promising young talent forming in the Negro Leagues. There were no official bans on black players in Major League Baseball at the time, but Rickey's idea of integration on the field was often met with opposition from rival clubs and league officials.
But, Rickey didn't care. He signed a talented young prospect from the Kansas City Monarchs.
On April 15, 1947, 27-year-old Jack Roosevelt Robinson debuted at first base, and didn't hit a single ball in his three times at bat. But he did do more for the game of baseball than anyone ever could have imagined that day. Jackie Robinson broke baseballs color line and changed the game forever.
Robinson was one of the best players of his time exuding a confidence and silent strength that stood up against abuse from rival ball clubs, fans, even members of his own team.
Some of Robinson's teammates said they would rather strike than play alongside him. Dodger management responded by telling the defiant players they were welcome to find employment elsewhere, the sedition ended...at least in the dugout.
On the field it was another story. Pitchers threw at Robinson's head, base runners tried to cut him with their cleats and the verbal abuse from opposing teams was relentless.
The Philadelphia Phillies, led by manager Ben Chapman, were especially offensive to Robinson. Rickey would later recall that, "Chapman did more than anybody to unite the Dodgers. When he poured out that string of unconscionable abuse, he solidified and united thirty men." (Wikipedia)
By 1953, six of the 16 Major League Baseball teams had African-Americans on their rosters.
Robinson earned Rookie of the Year honors in 1947 and National League MVP honors in 1949. He led the Dodgers to the World Series six times in his career, including the Dodgers first and only victory over their cross town rivals the New York Yankees in 1955.
At the close of the 1956 season, Robinson was sold to the New York Giants. But rather than play for another team, Robinson opted to retire at the age of 37.
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. In 1959, twelve years after Jackie Robinson took the field for the Dodgers, the last team in Major League Baseball signed an African- American player. Elijah 'Pumpsie' Green made his debut with the Boston Red Sox.
In 1972, the Dodgers retired Robinson's number 42 alongside fellow teammates Roy Campanella (39) and Sandy Koufax (32). That same year Robinson made his final public appearance at Game two of the World Series in Cincinnati. There he expressed to fans and management his desire to see a black man managing a Major League Ball club.
Two years later, the Cleveland Indians hired still active player Frank Robinson (no relation to Jackie) as manager. Four years later, after being fired by the Indians, Robinson became the first black manager for a National League team, The San Francisco Giants. By 2005, five teams had African- American or Hispanic managers, and 13 of 30 had hired one at some point in their history.
Mitchell & Ness, a well-known manufacturer of authentic vintage jerseys based in Philadelphia estimates that about 35% of the jerseys they carry are Hispanic and African- American players, like Robinson, Willie Mays, Reggie Jackson and Willie Stargell.
The Jackie Robinson Foundation will auction off new Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers commemorative pennants from Mitchell & Ness. The pennants are available at mitchellandness.com and jackierobinson.org, and a portion of the proceeds benefits their mission of providing scholarships to students of color.
The heroes of today would not be around without the legends of yesterday. Icons like Robinson, Campanella, Willie Mays and Frank Robinson led the way for African-Americans and Hispanic players in the big leagues today giving them an even playing field to inspire the players of tomorrow.
Robinson once said, "I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me...I only ask that you respect me as a human being."
Oh we do Mr. Robinson. We do.