Los Angeles Dodgers



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Fifty years after breaking the color barrier in baseball, Jackie Robinson had his uniform number retired. Not by the Dodgers, who did it way back in 1972, but by all of baseball. It was a first; no player on any team would wear number 42 again. Such a hallowed honor was a testament to Robinson for being put under America’s microscope, amid a hostile environment where he was ordered by his boss, Dodger general manager Branch Rickey, to have the guts “not to fight back.”
The legend of Robinson’s odyssey in Brooklyn is well recorded. Scouted by Rickey as the right man with the right attitude for the right moment. Tolerance of internal protests from white teammates bred below the Mason-Dixon line. Tolerance of opponents who hurled baseballs at his head and vicious racial epithets at his ears. The gradual warming to him by his team, and the widespread applause and acceptance given to him from around the country as he showed how much better a place America could be because of baseball.
Often lost amid the social ramifications of Robinson’s emergence is the intense, energetic effort he gave on the field.
In his groundbreaking rookie year, the 28-year-old Robinson hit .297, produced a 21-game hit streak, scored 125 runs and stole a league-leading 29 bases; he was named Rookie of the Year by both the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and The Sporting News, the conservative, go-to baseball weekly that had argued against Robinson’s talent in what some perceived as a façade for a darker, racist-tinted argument against his being in the game, period.
Through his 10 years with the Dodgers, Robinson was the true spark to complement the Boys of Summer boppers behind him in the lineup. He recorded a lifetime .311 batting average, scored 100 runs six times and stole nearly 200 bases at a time when speed was an afterthought. In 1949, Robinson enjoyed his best year statistically when he collected 203 hits, 38 doubles, 12 triples, 16 homers, 124 RBIs, 37 steals and won the NL batting crown with a .342 average. For this, he became the first black player to win a MVP award.
Robinson was never quite able to rise to the occasion in the postseason, batting just .234 in 38 games—though he did create one of his more memorable moments in Game One of the 1955 World Series when he stole home, sending opposing Yankee catcher Yogi Berra flying into a rage to dispute the call.
After the 1956 season, Robinson—gradually graying at age 37—was traded to the New York Giants; rather than report to his archrivals, he retired.
Robinson knew all too well that the emancipation of African-Americans within the majors didn’t start and stop with him, as he fought tirelessly for the continued presence of blacks in the game where it seemed woefully underwhelming. He publicly challenged the all-white Yankees to integrate in 1954 after general manager George Weiss stated on record that “Boxholders from Westchester…would be offended to sit with niggers”; testified to Congress in 1970 on behalf of outfielder Curt Flood, who was challenging the slave-like reserve clause; and, in his dying days in 1972, made a nationally-televised plea at the World Series to hire a black manager. (Frank Robinson would get that call, over two years later.)

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