The numbers of African-American players in Major League Baseball have been declining since the seventies, with just under 70 players total. However, those dozens of players all owe a great debt to Jackie Robinson, who broke another race barrier on July 23, 1962 after becoming the first Black player immortalized in Cooperstown.
Robinson took up sports in Pasadena in high school, following on the footsteps of his brother, Mack Robinson, who was an Olympic silver medalist. While at UCLA, Robinson became the first athlete to earn varsity letters in four sports: baseball, football, basketball, and track.
After a stint in the Army, Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues, and got the call up from Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey that would change MLB history. April 15, 1947 was the day Robinson broke the color lines and played first base for the Dodgers, enduring taunts and searing racism, but gracefully playing through it all while earning the support of his white teammates.
As a Dodger, Robinson was a six-time All-Star, and a World Series champion along with several other honors. Due to complications from diabetes, Robinson retired at the age of 37 on January 5, 1957, but enjoyed a good life away from the diamond. Along the way, Robinson involved himself in the civil rights movement, became the MLB’s first Black analyst, and also become the first Black vice president of a major American corporation when he took the helm at Chock Full O’ Nuts.
Robinson passed in 1972 at the age of 53. The MLB honored the legendary player for his 100th birthday this season.
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