“42”: Jackie Robinson’s Legacy on Baseball

Nicole Martin, Senior Copy Editor

In baseball, the number “42” serves as a reminder of Black history — the number that laid on the back of the first African American Major League Baseball player to break the color barrier: Jackie Robinson.

Raised by a single mother with four other siblings in Cairo, GA, and as the only black family in his neighborhood during a heavily segregated time, Robinson experienced discrimination and knew what being “different” felt like from a young age. With this awareness, Robinson learned to pave his own way in life, particularly through sports.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, Robinson became the first athlete to be a four-sport letter winner, where he excelled in football, basketball, track and field and baseball. Due to finances, his college career was cut short, which caused him to enlist in the United States Army in the midst of World War II. 

Robinson remained an activist for civil rights. Refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus, Robinson was arrested for insubordination, drunkenness, though he never drank, and disturbance of the peace, and was court-martialed for his persistence and commitment to civil rights, where he was eventually released of charges. Honorably discharged from the army, Robinson began the start of a historic career in professional baseball.

Originally, Robinson played as a shortstop for the Negro American League of the Kansas City Monarchs, until he was discovered by the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickley. It was then that Robinson became the first Black player in an all-White league. Yet, the move into the team did not come without its share of extreme emotional and physical abuse. As the only Black player in a White team in a time of extreme societal racism and segregation laws, Robinson encountered constant racial taunts and epithets from audience members and fellow players on the field. 

In spite of the constant racial abuse Robinson endured, as Robinson went to play on the field, he was ordered to ignore the racial taunts and keep it professional. He was named “National League Rookie of the year” at the end of his first season, with a total of 12 home runs, 29 steals and an average of .249. In 1949, Robinson won the National League’s “Most Valuable Player” award, single-handedly guiding the Dodgers to another consecutive World Series. In 1955, Robinson’s playing and leadership on the team helped the team score a win against the New York Yankees, earning them the title of baseball championship winner.

Following his retirement in 1956, Robinson continued advocating for Black civil rights across America, becoming a board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, where he led peaceful protests. Apart from this, Robinson became the first African American commentator for MLB in 1972 and was indebted to the MLB Hall of Fame in 1962.

In 2013, honoring Robinson’s legacy and contributions to the Baseball world and African American history, Brian Hegleland’s film “42” starring Chadwick Boseman featured the life of Robinson and brought his story to the big screen as audiences viewed the impact that he left on the world.

“Jackie Robinson had one of the most important impacts of any baseball player ever. His brave act of breaking the color barrier in baseball allowed many others to follow his path, creating equality in baseball. Not only his fellow African American players but also Latin players like Minnie Miñoso,” Miami Palmetto Senior High junior and baseball player Sebastian Font said. “He served as a symbol of change which America began to follow.”

Today, Robinson’s legacy remains significant to not just the history of baseball, but to the history of Black advancement and civil rights in an unaccepting society. Thus, we continue to honor Robinson’s contributions by labeling April 15 as “Jackie Robinson Day,” marking the day Robinson became a part of the Dodgers as first-baseman. The rest is history.

“His story inspires me due to the adversity and discrimination he faced with grace. He withstood racial abuse from both players and fans everywhere he went, but stood strong for his cause, playing the game he loved,” Font said. “His aggressive base running inspires the way I play the game today; trying to steal any base I can.”