73 years ago, the Brooklyn Dodgers opened the 1947 season against the Boston Braves. The Dodgers were coming off a disappointing tie-breaker series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1946 and they had just had their manager Leo Durocher suspended for the entire season.
But on April 15, 1947, everything changed when Jackie Robinson made his debut at first base for the Dodgers. Robinson was the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era and both the game and American society would never be the same.
One person who knows more than anyone else how Jackie Robinson felt that day back in 1947 is his widow Rachel Robinson. In 1973, she started the Jackie Robinson Foundation which has been providing multi-year college scholarships for many years and is also building the Jackie Robinson Museum in New York.
Rachel Robinson spoke about that day in 2010 during an MLB Network interview. She remains an inspiration for her continued work in promoting the ideals that she and her husband worked toward for many years.
After a slow start, Robinson would end the season with an .810 OPS in 151 games and 701 plate appearances. He scored 125 runs, led the league with 29 stolen bases .
Robinson was named the first national Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). In 1987, the 40th anniversary of Robinson’s debut, the award was renamed the Jackie Robinson Award.
Robinson began his professional baseball career in 1945 when he played for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League. Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, remembered Robinson’s early days in baseball.
Vin Scully started broadcasting for the Dodgers in 1950, three years after Robinson had made his debut. Scully tells the story on how the idea of everyone wearing No. 42 was brought up for the first time during a tense situation prior to a game at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.
In 1949, pitcher Don Newcombe made his major league debut for the Dodgers. He would eventually become the first pitcher to win Rookie of the Year, the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards.
In fact, Newcombe, catcher Roy Campanella and Robinson would be awarded the National League Most Valuable Player a combined five times from 1949 through 1956.
Newcombe, Campanella and Robinson would be part of the foundation that helped the Dodgers win five National Pennants in eight seasons and also were part of the only World Series winner in Brooklyn in 1955.
Newcombe greatly admired Robinson.
On the 40th anniversary of his debut, the Dodgers produced this tribute on Jackie Robinson Day:
There won’t be any ceremonies on major league fields today. The Dodgers won’t all be wearing those red numbers on their white home uniforms tonight. But if you have a chance, take a moment to remember Jackie Robinson. My favorite Robinson quote is as timely now as it was when it was first said.
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
Let’s last the word be from current Dodger manager Dave Roberts who like Robinson attended UCLA and he made this video for UCLA Athletics in 2019:
Have a great Jackie Robinson Day, everyone.