Born in Cairo, Georgia, USA. Jackie Robinson was a football and baseball star at the University of California in Los Angeles, where he played with Kenny Washington[?], who would become one of the first black players in the National Football League. After serving in the military during World War II, Robinson played baseball for a while for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues. There, he was noticed by a scout working for Branch Rickey[?].
Rickey was the club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and had the secret goal of signing a group of black ballplayers for the Dodgers. Previous attempts at signing black ballplayers had been thwarted by league officials and rival clubs in the past, however, and so Rickey operated under cover. His scouts were, supposedly, scouting for a new all-black league Rickey was forming. Even the scouts themselves did not know the true objective.
Rickey selected Robinson from a list of promising candidates, signed him, and assigned him to play for the Dodgers' minor-league affiliate in Montreal in 1946. Although that season was very trying emotionally for Robinson, it was also a spectacular success in a city that treated him with all the wild fan support that made the Canadian city a welcome refuge from the hateful harassment he experienced elsewhere.
Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, was one of the most eagerly-awaited events in baseball history, and one of the most profound in the history of the U.S. civil rights movement.
Robinson was a slightly curious candidate as the first Black Major Leaguer. Not only was he 27 years old, old for a prospect, he also had a fiery temperament. His future Dodger teammate Roy Campanella might have been a better candidate to face the jeering crowds, and abusive opponents. But it was Robinson.
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Robinson was awarded the Rookie of the Year award in 1947, and the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1949. He not only contributed to Brooklyn pennants in both years, but his determination and hustle kept the Dodgers in pennant races in 1950 and 1951 when they rightly should have been eliminated much sooner.
Robinson's Major League prime was fairly short, as superstars go. He did not enter the majors until he was 28 and he was done by the time he was 37. But in his prime, he was a player respected and feared by every opposing team in baseball.
He was not a great home run hitter, but in clutch situations, he hit home runs. He was not as smooth a fielder as some, but in clutch situations he made outstanding fielding plays. He was a strong hitter, and pure genius as a baserunner. He could accelerate to top speed in three steps, he had great courage and smarts and guts on the bases. By his talent and physical presence, he disrupted the concentration of pitchers and catchers and middle infielders.
Robinson retired from the game on January 5, 1957. He had wanted to manage or coach in the major leagues, but received no offers. He became a vice-president for the Chock Full O' Nuts Corporation instead and was elected to the United States Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
As a tribute to Robinson, in 1997 all major-league baseball teams agreed to retire Robinson's jersey number, 42 (though players currently wearing the number could continue to do so).
For details, see Jules Tygiel's excellent book, Baseball's Great Experiment.