It was 65 years ago today that Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, forever changing the game--and all of sports. Robinson took the field on April 15, 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and his legacy is still rightly remembered today. Robinson was a six-time All-Star, a batting champion, an MVP, a six-time National League champion and was a key member of the only World Series championship Brooklyn Dodgers' team of 1955. He was also elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame in his first season of eligibilty, and his number 42 was retired for all time in all of baseball in 1997 by Major League Baseball. Such accomplishments are very memorable.
More memorable than the on-the-field achievements by Robinson was the impact that he made. It wasn't enough that Robinson became the first African-American to play in the big leagues. He also had to endure unimaginable verbal abuse by opponents, fans, and even some of his own teammates, without retaliation, or baseball's "great experiment", as it was called later, would have failed. There was one other component of this equation that also had to work--he had to be good. Robinson had to succeed as player on the field, at the plate, and in the clubhouse, and he did all of that, earning MLB Rookie of the Year honors for that 1947 season, and helping the Dodgers win the National League pennant, where they took the heavily-favored New York Yankees to a decisive seventh game before falling in the World Series. Alas, for Robinson and the Dodgers (and for long-suffering Brooklyn fans), it was merely the early stages of an all-too-familiar theme: the Dodgers won NL pennants in 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953, and 1956--and lost all five of those World Series to the hated Yankees. The first four Series losses to the Bronx Bombers made winning Brooklyn's only world title in 1955, beating New York in a seventh and deciding game in, all of all places, Yankee Stadium, all the more satisfying. By then, Robinson had not only become a bona fide member of "The Boys Of Summer", the term of endearment for all of those Dodger teams of the 40's and 50's embodied by the likes of future Hall of Famers Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, and Roy Campanella, but he also by that time had been established as an equally famous star in the major leagues--something that had been unimaginable just a decade before.
Robinson died in 1972 after a long-waged fight against a number of deteriorating health problems, most notably diabetes. He was only 53 years old, and it's been written by many that more than anything else, Robinson's life was cut short by the long-term effects of the long-time battle he waged against racism, both overtly and behind the scenes. But while Jackie Robinson's life was a short one by today's standards, his legacy as perhaps the most influential athlete in sports history continues today. Today and tonight, in every ballpark in the major leagues, every player will wear the number 42. It is baseball's annual one-day tribute to the game's one-of-a-kind individual.