Jackie Robinson — a Hall of Famer and baseball trailblazer

What would you think if you had to be the first black baseball player to play in the pros?
Max Vanderveer 5th Grade, Okte Elementary School
Max Vanderveer 5th Grade, Okte Elementary School

What would you think if you had to be the first black baseball player to play in the pros? All blacks depend on you to stay calm. If you don’t, blacks won’t be able to play professional baseball for who knows how long.

Well Jackie Robinson went through all of that pressure. People would call him names and cleat him and make him bleed. He would not fight back, though. He wanted to fight back, but he knew if he did, he would blow the chances of blacks to get into the Major Leagues for a long time. I admire him for taking on the pressure and having to have courage to go up to the plate.

Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born on Jan. 31, 1919, in Cairo, Ga. Jackie was raised in relative poverty by his single mother and was the youngest of five siblings. Jackie went to John Muir school and Pasadena Junior College. He played four sports! The sports were baseball, basketball, football and track. No wonder he was so fast in the major leagues.

Someone in Jackie’s family was also involved in sports. Jackie’s brother Matthew Robinson was in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He won the silver medal in the 200 meters behind the great runner Jesse Owens.

Jackie went on with his education at UCLA. He became the first student in the university to win varsity letters in the four sports he played. Jackie was forced to leave UCLA right near graduation because of financial hardship in 1941. He moved to Honolulu. When he was there, he played football for the semi-pro team the Honolulu Bears but his season was cut short because he was chosen to go into World War II. In World War II, Jackie served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1944. He never saw combat because of an altercation in boot camp in Texas.

Jackie was arrested because he refused to go to the back of a segregated bus while training was going on. After Jackie came back in 1944, he played baseball in the Negro Leagues. The Negro League was a league for only blacks. Whites played in the MLB (major league baseball) and blacks played in the Negro League. Then he was chosen by Branch Rickey, the vice president of the major league team the Brooklyn Dodgers, to help integrate the MLB. Jackie joined the farm team, or minor league team, the Montreal Royals, in 1945. He moved away to Florida for spring training for his first game on March 17, 1946. Branch knew Jackie would face very hard times in the major leagues, so he made Jackie promise not to fight back when he was called names or cleated or all the bad stuff whites would do to blacks back then. Even though he was on a team with whites, it didn’t mean some of his own teammates didn’t want him on the team. People in the crowd would shout bad things at him and threaten his family. But Jackie remembered what Branch said and he didn’t fight back.

Even though Jackie got teased and threatened he had an amazing start with a batting average with the Royals of .349 and .985 fielding percentage.

After his outstanding year with the Royals he got promoted to the Dodgers in 1947. He made his major league debut on April 15, 1947. He made history that day by being the first African-American ballplayer to play in the major leagues. The jeering didn’t stop, it kept going on. Lots of players on the opposing teams refused to play. Even his teammates didn’t want to play, but the manager, Leo Durocher, threatened that he would trade whoever refused to play. Other players defended Jackie.

Jackie’s progress was good enough so the fans would notice how good of a ballplayer he was. In Jackie’s first season with the Dodgers, he hit 12 home runs and helped the Dodgers win the pennant. Jackie also led the National League in stolen bases and was the rookie of the year. He had a .342 batting average in 1949. He led the National League in stolen bases again and won the Most Valuable Player award. He opened a door to many blacks in the MLB, such as Satchel Paige, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Jackie was a vocal champion for black athletes.

In Jackie’s 10-year career with the Dodgers, he helped win the National League pennant many times. Then in 1955, he and his team got into the World Series and beat the New York Yankees. After that, he got traded to the New York Giants but retired shortly after the trade. He had an impressive career batting average of .311. After he finished his baseball career, he worked at a coffee bean company. In 1962, he became the first black player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1972 the Dodgers retired his uniform No. 42.

On Oct. 24, 1972, Jackie died of heart problems and diabetes. One of the most tear-jerking moments in history was April 15, 2007, after Jackie’s number was retired from the whole major league, the league had a 60th anniversary and let all players wear the great Jackie Robinson’s number, No. 42.

Max VanderVeer is a fifth-grader at Otke Elementary School in Clifton Park.

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