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Jackie Robinson, now immortalized in bronze, was an iron man

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Jackie Robinson debuted with the Dodgers 70 years ago today.
Credit: Getty Images

Saturday is a special day throughout baseball, with everyone in uniform throughout MLB will wear No. 42 to honor Jackie Robinson, who debuted 70 years ago with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It will be extra special at Dodger Stadium, where the Dodgers will unveil the first statue at Dodger Stadium, one of Robinson stealing home.

Robinson stole home 19 times in his career, in 31 attempts during the regular season. But his most famous steal of home came in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series, sliding in ahead of the tag from catcher Yogi Berra.

On hand for the Saturday ceremony will be Jackie’s wife Rachel Robinson along with daughter Sharon and son David. They will be joined by Dodgers legends Sandy Koufax, Don Newcombe, Tommy Lasorda and Vin Scully, and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who was also the first African-American manger in major-league baseball. The ceremony will be emceed by Kevin Frazier, and will air on SportsNet LA and AM 570 at 3 p.m. PT.

The first 40,000 fans in attendance at Dodger Stadium on Saturday will receive a replica statue.

With this year the 70th anniversary of Robinson’s debut, I wanted to look at how Robinson did in his first 70 career games.

It’s not surprising that Robinson did quite well, hitting .315/.404/.407 with more than twice as many walks (34) as strikeouts (15). He also scored 60 runs in those first 70 games, en route to scoring 125 on the season, second in the National League.

Robinson scored at least one run in each of his first seven games, the longest such streak by a Dodger to start their career dating back to 1913. The only person to match Robinson’s streak was Jim Gilliam in 1953.

But what struck me in looking at Robinson’s game logs in 1947 was just how much of an iron man he was.

In Robinson’s very first game, the Dodgers led the Boston Braves 5-3, and replaced Robinson at first base with Howie Schultz in the ninth inning.

He didn’t miss another inning until June. Robinson played in all but five innings of the Dodgers’ first 137 games of the season, then sat out for two games on September 7 and 9. After that, and after the Dodgers had already clinched the pennant, Robinson exited two games after four innings, and missed the penultimate game of the season.

Robinson led the Dodgers with 1,330 defensive innings, 96.7% of the team total. He averaged 150 games in his first six seasons, more than anyone else on the team, back when the schedule was 154 games.

In the majors during that time, only Stan Musial and Ralph Kiner played in more games than Robinson.

It is unimaginable to consider all the ugliness that Robinson had to endure, especially in those early seasons. For him to have played nearly every day, never really missing a beat, in the face of all of it, makes his achievements even more impressive.

The anniversary

Robinson only played on April 15 in five of his 10 seasons (1947, 1952-55), with half of his years beginning later. He was 0-for-3 with a run scored and a sacrifice in that first game in 1947.

In his career he was 2-for-15 with a home run and five walks in those five games on April 15, hitting .133/.350/.333. The home run was hit against Pirates right-hander Max Surkont in 1954, a two-run shot in a three-run first inning in a 7-4 Brooklyn win at Ebbets Field.