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What is Jackie Robinson Day?

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Anyone who knows a little something about baseball will have heard about Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson (31 January 1919 – 24 October 1972) – the legendary Brooklyn Dodger who is known for his prowess on the field and the man who openly broke the major league baseball color line, also known as the color barrier, more than seven decades ago. In a strange twist of fate, Robinson had to play against the Dodgers, before he could join them.

In 1945, Jackie Robinson was playing professional baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League when he was signed to play with the Montreal Royals of the Triple-A level International League, an affiliate of the Dodgers. In 1946, Robinson arrived at Daytona Beach, Florida, for spring training and his presence was controversial in racially charged Florida. Not only was he not allowed to be in the same hotel as his teammates, but also was subject to the whim of area localities in deciding whether to allow black players access to the games and the police even threatened to cancel games if Robinson played. If he wanted to watch a game, he was required to sit in the segregated "Jim Crow" section – a derisive slang term for a black man. After much lobbying of local officials by Branch Rickey (20 December 1881 – 9 December 1965), club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Royals were allowed to host a game involving Robinson in Daytona Beach. Robinson made his debut with the team at City Island Ballpark on 17 March 1946, in an exhibition game against the Dodgers. As such, the City Island Ballpark became "the site of the first racially integrated spring training game" and Robinson became the first black player to openly play for a minor league team against a major league team since the baseball color line was firmly established during the 1880s. Robinson continued to play for the Royals until he was called up to the major leagues just before the start of the 1947 season. At the age of 28, Robinson played his first major league game at Ebbets Field (Brooklyn, New York) on 15 April 1947 as a first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers before of crowd of nearly 27,000 spectators, more than 14,000 of whom were black.

Jackie Robinson had an exceptional ten-year major league baseball career with the Brooklyn Dodgers (15 April 1947 – 10 October 1956) during which he received many awards during that period, including the Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, was an All-Star for the years 1949-1954, won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949 – the first black player so honoured, played in six World Series and contributed to the Dodgers' 1955 World Series championship, among others. In 1962, seven years after his retirement, he became the first black player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Robinson received many posthumous accolades and recognition after his death in 1972 at 53 years of age. For example in 1973, a few months after his passing, his widow Rachel Robinson established in his honour the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a non-profit organization which gives scholarships to minority youths for higher education and preserves the legacy of her husband. The Foundation is also planning to open a 18,500-square-foot Jackie Robinson Museum and Learning Center in lower Manhattan, New York, in spring 2019. Among the many monuments, buildings, schools and ballparks erected in Robinson's honour is a bronze statue of him with two children located at the south entrance to the City Island Ballpark – renamed Jackie Robinson Ballpark in 1989 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places on 22 October 1998. The composite statue shown in the photograph was sculpted by Jules Lasalle and was dedicated by Rachel Robinson on 15 September 1990. Located on the plinth are inscriptions related to the importance of the spring training and legendary game played on 17 March 1946, "…thus marking an historic event in the struggle to achieve equality of opportunity in modern major league baseball… both of which are viewed as milestone in the history of sports and civil rights."

Despite the existence of countless associated sites of remembrance, the most well-known and beloved living memorial is 'Jackie Robinson Day' established in 2004 – a traditional event which occurs annually in major league baseball, commemorating and honoring the day Jackie Robinson made his major league debut on 15 April 1947. Since 2009, each April 15th, all players, managers, coaches, umpires and other on-field personnel wear Robinson's iconic Number '42' on that designated day to honour the enduring impact of Jackie Robinson's legacy on baseball and American society. As an ultimate sign of respect, the Brooklyn Dodgers had retired Robinson's number shortly before his death and major league baseball extended that retirement to a league-wide one in 1997. The year commemorating 2019 added a special element of on-field tributes throughout the league for the centennial celebration of Robinson's birth.

On this day, 15 April 2019, we celebrate the centennial anniversary of the birth of Jackie Robinson, mark the 72nd anniversary of his major league debut breaking the major baseball color line and commemorate the 15th anniversary of Jackie Robinson Day.

André M. Levesque

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