Jackie Robinson burst onto the scene in 1947, breaking baseball's color barrier and bringing the Negro leagues' electrifying style of play to the majors. Facing fierce resistance from fans and players alike, Robinson met the challenge head on and quickly became baseball's top drawing card and a symbol of hope to millions of Americans.
In the late 1940's, after one season with the Kansas City Monarchs of the American Negro League, Robinson was selected from a list of promising African-American players to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was a historic move that ended decades of discrimination against blacks in baseball. After an accomplished season with the Dodgers farm club, Robinson was called up to play for the major league club. He debuted on April 15, 1947, becoming the first player in fifty-seven years to break the Baseball color line.
Throughout the season, Robinson experienced harassment at the hands of both players and fans. He was verbally abused by both his teammates and members of opposing teams. Some Dodger players insinuated they would sit out rather than play alongside Robinson. The mutiny ended when Dodger management informed those players that they were welcome to find employment elsewhere. Robinson ended the 1947 season as Rookie of the Year, and in 1949, was named the Most Valuable Player of the National League.
Robinson's skill and flair filled the seats of Ebbet's Field and helped make the Dodgers one of the most competitive teams in baseball. A disciplined hitter and a versatile fielder, Robinson had a .311 career batting average and substantially more walks than strikeouts. He was also an outstanding base stealer. No other player since World War II has stolen home more than Robinson.
In 1957, after helping the Dodgers capture six pennants and one World Series (1955), Robinson retired from baseball. He had wanted to manage or coach in the major leagues, but received no offers. Long interested in business and finance, he became vice president of Chock Full O'Nuts, a coffee and restaurant chain, helped found the Freedom National Bank of Harlem, where he was chairman of the board from 1964 to 1972, and in 1970, he created the Jackie Robinson Construction Corporation. In both banking and construction, his major goal was to improve the lives of black Americans, especially those living in major cities.
Robinson died on October 24, 1972 but, long after his death, he continues to be memorialized. On March 2, 2005, in a stately ceremony beneath the Capitol Rotunda, Rachel Robinson accepted the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of her husband, who became just the fourth athlete to ever receive the award.
The most iconic piece of the Jackie Robinson lore, his uniform number42, will forever be part of the nation's tribute to him. On April 15, 1997, the fiftieth anniversary of his first baseball game in the Major Leagues, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, flanked by President Bill Clinton and Rachel Robinson, declared Jackie's jersey number retired in perpetuity.
Robinson is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and a member of the All-Century Team. In one of his most famous quotes, he said "I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me...all I ask is that you respect me as a human being."