Thursday marks 100 years since the birth of perhaps baseball's greatest hero. Jackie Robinson's lifetime of accomplishment was so remarkable that to consider a single aspect of it undermines the whole. To focus on him as a socio-political figure is to risk forgetting he was one of the most electric ballplayers who ever lived, one whose play changed baseball. To focus on him as an athlete is to fail to acknowledge that he stands as one of the most important Americans of the 20th century.
In integrating America's pastime at the big league level with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Robinson contributed to the Civil Rights Movement before many in the United States knew such a thing existed. It was a cause he further advanced through his comportment on the field in the face of bitter, brutal racism, through a corporate career after he'd finished playing and an active political life for most of his lifetime.
As a student at Pasadena Junior College, he was arrested for standing up to a police officer he thought was harassing a friend. At UCLA, he was one of four black players on the football team and the school's first student-athlete to letter in four sports. As a young soldier, he decried institutional racism in the Army and was court-martialed. And obviously as a big leaguer, he helped the game of baseball be reborn with modernization both inside and outside the lines.
After his sporting career, he participated in the March on Washington, was a high-profile businessman and an outspoken supporter of the Civil Rights Act, a vocal advocate for the hiring of black managers in baseball. He was one human being with one life to live -- 53 years -- but he's worthy of remembrance and reverence many times over.
Robinson's path to the Major Leagues did not start in, but traveled through the Minors, and Minor League Baseball is proud to have hosted his first impact on integrated pro ball.
Signed away from the Negro American League's Kansas City Monarchs in 1945, Robinson broke camp in 1946 with the International League's Montreal Royals. He outplayed the competition immediately, going 4-for-5 with a home run, four RBIs, four runs scored and a pair of stolen bases on Opening Day. He finished the year with a .349 average, 92 walks and only 27 strikeouts, 40 thefts and 113 runs scored over 124 games, leading Montreal to a 100-54 record, the IL championship and a Triple-A title.
The performance, coupled with his historic Dodgers debut season of 1947, suggests as far as ability is concerned, Robinson likely would have been ready for the Majors immediately upon signing. Although he officially "broke the color line" in baseball, many of those who came after him (Sam Jethroe, Elston Howard, Junior Gilliam, Artie Wilson and Sam Jones, for example) were subject to questionable or downright unnecessary Minor League assignments as big league teams were hesitant to give deserving black players a chance on the grandest stage throughout the rest of the 1940s and '50s.
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For Robinson, though, the trial of the Minor Leagues was more than a holding pen or a final hoop to jump through. It was the last step to proving skin color had nothing to do with talent, to demonstrating baseball is a game for everybody and the American ideal should be something for everybody.
His season in the International League is certainly worthy of commemoration. Over the years, MiLB.com has done a number of stories on various aspects of Robinson's 1946 campaign and his life. Here's a sampling:
Between 1931 and 1975, a "Junior" or "Little" World Series often took place as a means to determine the best team in Minor League Baseball. Perhaps the most notable such series took place in 1946, when Robinson's International League-champion Montreal Royals defeated the American Association's Louisville Colonels, four games to two. Complete story »
From Robinson's Minor League debut for the Montreal Royals on April 18 in front of an estimated 50,000 fans -- more than double the stadium's capacity -- until he was hoisted on his teammates' shoulders after they won the "Little World Series" on Oct. 4, 1946 proved to be a captivating season. Look back at all the recaps and game logs from Jackie's year. Complete coverage »
It was more than just sports history when Robinson started off his Minor League career with a dominating performance for the Brooklyn Dodgers against the Jersey City Giants. A local statue erected in 1998 still provides a physical reminder of Robinson's strength and courage, in which some natives of the New Jersey neighborhood long have found inspiration. Complete story »
The stadium now called Jackie Robinson Ballpark has consistently hosted Minor League Baseball since 1920, but the most impactful chapter of the stadium's long existence occurred in 1946. It was then that the City of Daytona Beach ignored existing Jim Crow-era segregation laws so Robinson, recently signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, could play there. Complete story »
Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida, has found a second life as a multi-sport training and tournament venue. But once a year, Dodgertown returns to its professional roots with the Florida State League's Jackie Robinson Celebration Game on the day Robinson's legacy is celebrated throughout all of baseball. Complete story »
Josh Jackson is a writer and editor for MiLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.