Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson Day Honors Both His Triumphs and His Struggles

There are approximately 165 days in the baseball season and April 15 is undoubtedly one of the most treasured. April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day, a day when every player sports his number 42 on their backs. Today, it’s important to not only reflect on his accolades, but also on the adversity he battled while creating an incredible resume that featured six All-Star Game appearances, an MVP award, a Rookie of the Year award, and a 1955 World Series ring.

His MLB career almost ended before it began. While in the military, Robinson was on a bus to Camp Hood army base in Texas and got into a quibble with the driver after he refused to move to the back of the bus. While Texas enforced Jim Crow laws, Robinson knew of the new policy that desegregated military buses. The bus driver had him court-martialed, which ended in an acquittal. 

That incident was part of conversations between Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey and his advisors while they debated whether or not to sign Robinson to a big league contract. Ultimately, of course, they did. 

However, when Robinson’s teammates got frustrated with lackluster service in a restaurant, there was a good chance he wouldn’t have been allowed to eat there. If Pee Wee Reese or Spider Jorgensen chirped at an ump about the strike zone it was a part of the game. If Robinson chirped, then it was taken as a verbal threat.

While teammates were getting fan mail, Robinson started getting death threats a month into his 1947 rookie season. While the Dodgers were on the road in Philadelphia, the NYPD was investigating two letters addressed to Robinson that threatened both him and his family.

Of course, Robinson also had to deal with racists on his own team. When Leo Durocher caught wind of the anti-Black backlash brewing among players that included Dixie Walker, he angrily read them the riot act. The cinematic version of that moment from 42 is one of the greatest scenes baseball cinema has to offer: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0OXfnOCcio

April 15 celebrates an incredible career, but it’s also a tribute to a brave, talented, singular man who paved the way for countless BIPOC athletes to play America’s pastime. While you watch your team play today, take a long look at the 42 on their backs, and remember the struggle and the triumph that it represents.