The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

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.

Jackie Robinson swinging a bat in Dodgers unif...

Jackie Robinson swinging a bat in Dodgers uniform, 1954. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Robinson in his UCLA track uniform

Robinson in his UCLA track uniform (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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13 thoughts on “Ten Things You Should Know About Jackie Robinson

  1. Peter on said:

    I worked alongside Jackie Robinson at Chock full O’nuts Corp in the late 50’s and early 60’s. A real down to earth gentleman.

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    • Wow, now that’s an experience worth sharing. I have no doubt he was a true gentleman. He always came across that way in the videos in which he’s featured.
      Thanks for sharing,
      Bill

  2. Great post, Will.I watched a documentary on Ebbets Field not too long ago and this article made me think of it. Those old Brooklyn teams were fierce.

  3. That was pretty neat. There were a lot of things I didn’t know, and quite a few that I knew something about, but didn’t realize that I was missing part of the story. Definitely a gentleman worth remembering.

    • The thing that I didn’t know about before I did the research that impressed me the most was about his brother being in the ’36 Olympics with Jesse Owens, and winning the Silver Medal.
      Cheers, man.
      Bill

  4. If you want to read about Fidel Castro as a pitcher, and get a look at a handmade baseball card, check this link http://infinitecardset.blogspot.com/2010/03/21-fidel-castro.html

  5. As an aside, did you know that Fidel Castro was something of a prospect as a pitcher?

  6. Glen Russell Slater on said:

    I knew most of this stuff, but not all of it. If anyone out there has kids, I recommend the book where I learned this stuff, “Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers” by Milton Shapiro. Excellent book that I read as a ten year old. I DEVOURED any book that had to do with baseball when I was ten and eleven. The first part of the book discusses Mack Robinson and running in the Olympics.

    What I MOSTLY wish is that the coach had let Marty Glickman run in the Olympics. It would have been GREAT if Marty Glickman won a race, thus REALLY infuriating “DER FUHRER”.

    That’s an interesting thing about Ferris Fain of the A’s. It makes one wonder if Robinson’s award was based purely on baseball statistics. Obviously not. I guess they weighed what he had to go through during his rookie year (INCLUDING getting spiked by Enos Slaughter while Robinson was playing first base; Slaughter always claimed that it was an accident, but a lot of people didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt on that one. It definitely slowed down Slaughter’s eventual induction into the Hall of Fame).

    I’ve wondered for a long time if they actually INVENTED the Rookie of the Year award during the season; in other words, I wonder if it came to the minds of the powers-that-be as a way of showing special appreciation to Jackie. Not that I begrudge it; heck, even if he batted .235, Jackie would have deserved it, as I see it. My God, what this man had to endure during that 1947 season.

    HERE’S something that I didn’t know until recent years—– Not all fans in BROOKLYN were exactly wild about Jackie. Racism has always been very much a fact of life in New York City, in general; it just wasn’t as obvious as in other races. Whether Dodger fans at Ebbets field actually yelled out “the ‘N’ word when Jackie came up, I don’t know; Philllies fans certainly did. But not all Brooklyn Dodgers fans embraced Jackie with open arms; far FROM it. You’ve got to remember that Dixie Walker was nicknamed “The People’s Cherce” (that’s Brooklynese for “choice”) long before Jackie came along. And I’m sure you’re aware of Walker’s request to be traded because he didn’t want to play on the same team as Robinson. His request was fulfilled after the ’47 season, when he was traded to Pittsburgh.

    Ironically, Dixie Walker had an excellent season in ’47 DESPITE the presence and obvious distraction of Jackie; Walker batted .306 (eighth in the league), batted in 94 runs, and was fourth in On Base Percentage. It’s kind of paradoxical and curious in a way; it’s also kind of odd that, considering that he had such a great year DESPITE being on the same team as Jackie, that Walker didn’t withdraw his request to be traded.

  7. Another great read, Bill. I didn’t know about Jackie’s brother and Jackie’s Cuban training camp before tonight.

    Keep’em coming,
    Allan

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