Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMIAMI) – April 15 is known to most Americans as tax day. For New Englanders this year, it’s Patriot’s Day. But across the baseball world, April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball on April 15, 1947 when he debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson’s contribution to not only sports, but society in general, is almost impossible to measure as he meant so much to so many.
The legendary Dodger wasn’t just a flash in the pan either. He was a Hall of Fame player who put up great numbers over a ten year career in which he had to deal with unparalleled racism and hatred thrown his way.
Just the fact that Robinson was on the field was enough for some, but not for the legendary player.
In his debut season, 1947, Robinson played in 151 games and hit .297 with 12 home runs and 48 RBI’s. Just two years later, Robinson had arguably his best season when he hit .342, with 16 home runs, 124 RBI’s and 37 stolen bases. He was named MVP for his performance in 1949.
For his career, Robinson was a .311 hitter with 137 home runs, 734 RBI’s and 197 stolen bases and had a career .883 OPS. He was selected to six all-star games and was named MVP and won Rookie of the Year when he debuted in the Majors.
In tribute to Robinson, players across the Major Leagues will wear the number 42, Robinson’s number from his playing days on Monday.
After his career, Robinson became a champion of civil rights and was in communication with Presidents and other influential leaders throughout the Civil Rights movement in the South.
“I won’t ‘have it made’ until the most underprivileged Negro in Mississippi can live in equal dignity with anyone else in America,” Robinson said.
In 1965, Robinson warned then President Lyndon Johnson about just how dangerous things had become in Alabama.
“Important you take immediate action in Alabama. One more day of savage treatment by legalized hatchet men could lead to open warfare by aroused Negroes. America can’t afford this in 1965.”
In one of his final letters to the White House, written on April 20, 1972, Robinson once again asked for help in the civil rights movement and warned against further inaction by political leaders.
“Black America has asked so little, but if you can’t see the anger that comes from rejection, you are treading a dangerous course,” Robinson wrote. “We older blacks, unfortunately, were willing to wait. Today’s young blacks are ready to explode! We had better take some definitive action or I am afraid the consequences could be nation shattering. I hope you will listen to the cries of the black youth. We cannot afford additional conflict.”
Robinson died of a heart-attack in October 1972 , just more than a year after his son died in an automobile accident at the age of 24.
His life story hit the big screen over the weekend in a movie called, “42.” In it’s first weekend at the box office, it was the number one film in America.