Arguably the single most important player in the history of baseball, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was a promising all-around athlete, becoming the first four-letter athlete in UCLA history. He was playing for the Honalulu Bears, a professional football team in Hawaii, when he was drafted into the Army in 1942. An African-American, he was court martialed in 1944 when he refused to move to the back of a segregated bus, eleven years before Rosa Parks. He was discharged (honorably) and joined the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs in 1945. Robinson spent one season there before Dodgers GM, Branch Rickey, discovered him. The following season he was playing for the Montreal Royals, the AAA minor league team of the Brooklyn Dodgers and in 1947 he officially became the first black man to play Major League baseball since the 1880s. He won the inaugural Rookie of the Year award that year and would win the MVP two years later when he hit .342 and led the league in stolen bases. A dynamic player who commanded the field when he played, he also suffered racism and abuse throughout his career. Despite all the obstacles, he played with such dignity and grace that before the 1947 season was over, other teams began to hire blacks and the game became forever changed. He played his entire career in Brooklyn, retiring before the Dodgers made their famous move to Los Angeles.
Robinson is buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, one of New York City’s largest and most historic burial grounds. The Jackie Robinson Parkway, a highway that connects Queens and Brooklyn in the heart of the outer-boroughs, bisects the cemetery.
September 17, 2010