Ten Things You Should Know About Jackie Robinson
Former Brooklyn Dodgers’ legend Jackie Robinson died forty years ago today in Stamford, CT, at age 53. I was nine-years old when he died, living in Bridgeport, CT, just about half an hour away from Stamford. I vaguely remember the event being covered in the local media. At the time, though, I had no idea of the significance of Jackie Robinson’s legacy on baseball in particular, and on American society in general.
Here are ten things you may not have known about Jackie Robinson:
1) His full name was Jack Roosevelt Robinson. A Republican-leaning Independent for most of his adult life, his middle name was a family tribute to progressive Republican president Theodore Roosevelt, not to F.D.R.
2) His older brother, Mack Robinson, won the Silver Medal for the U.S. in the men’s 200 meter sprint in the 1936 Olympics hosted by Adolf Hitler in Berlin. Teammate Jesse Owens won the Gold.
3) In the spring of 1947, the Dodgers held Jackie Robinson’s first Spring Training in Havana, Cuba. It was considered a more hospitable place for Jackie to break in than Spring Training in the U.S. would have been. That same year, 21-year old Fidel Castro participated in his first (unsuccessful) attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.
4) While enrolled at UCLA, Robinson participated in multiple sports, including football, basketball and track and field. His worst sport at that time was baseball. In the one season he played baseball for UCLA, Robinson batted just .097, though he did steal home twice.
5) In his rookie season in the Majors, Robinson exclusively played first base. It was the only one of his ten seasons where he would be the team’s starting first baseman. He was replaced at that position by Gil Hodges in 1948.
6) When Robinson won MLB’s first Rookie of the Year award in 1947, though he was certainly the most important player in either league, he did not actually have the best rookie season in the league. He finished the year with a WAR of 3.0, good for third place behind Giant’s pitcher Larry Jansen (4.6 WAR), and the Athletics’ first baseman Ferris Fain (3.8 WAR.)
7) During the regular season, Robinson stole home 19 times in his career, certainly an impressive number. The Major League record, however, belongs to Ty Cobb. He stole home an amazing 54 times in his career.
8) The one season that the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series was 1955. Perhaps surprisingly, that was also Robinson’s least productive season. Playing in just 105 games, Robinson batted just .256. Then, in 24 World Series at bats vs. the Yankees, the 36-year old Robinson batted just .182. He did, however, steal home in Game 1 of the Series, played at Yankee Stadium. It remains the last straight steal of home in World Series history.
9) In 1965, Robinson became the first black T.V. network broadcaster, hired by ABC as part of its baseball broadcast crew.
10) His oldest son, Jackie Robinson, Jr., developed a drug problem while serving in the Vietnam War where he was wounded in action in 1965. After he was discharged from the Army, he enrolled in a drug treatment center in Seymour, CT. He was later killed in a car accident in 1971, age 24. His father, Jackie Robinson, Sr. would survive his son by just 16 months.