Jackie Robinson is perhaps the most historically significant baseball player ever, ranking with Babe Ruth in terms of his impact on the national pastime. Ruth changed the way baseball was played; Jackie Robinson changed the way Americans thought. When Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, more than sixty years of racial segregation in Major League Baseball came to an end. He was the first acknowledged black player to perform in the Major Leagues in the twentieth century and went on to be the first to win a batting title, the first to win the Most Valuable Player Award, and the first to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He won Major League Baseball’s first official Rookie of the Year Award and was the first baseball player, black or white, to be featured on a U.S. postage stamp.
The raw statistics only scratch the surface in evaluating Jackie Robinson as a ballplayer. Because of institutionalized racism and World War II, he did not play his first big league game until he was twenty-eight years old, and therefore his Major League career spanned only ten seasons. His lifetime batting average was a solid .311, but because of the brevity of his career, his cumulative statistics are relatively unimpressive by Hall of Fame standards.
But in what would be considered his prime years, ages twenty-eight to thirty-four, Robinson hit .319 and averaged more than no runs scored per season. He drove in an average of 85 runs, and his average of nearly 15 home runs per season was outstanding for a middle infielder of that era. And he averaged 24 stolen bases a season for a powerladen team that didn’t need him to run very often.
Jackie Robinson overcame a most difficult entrance to the
Major Leagues to win Rookie of the Year honors.
Colorfully described as a tiger in the field and a lion at bat, the right-handed-hitting Robinson crowded the plate and dared opposing hurlers to dust him off—a challenge they frequently accepted. He was an excellent bunter, good at the sacrifice and always a threat to lay one down for a hit. Not known as a home-run hitter, he displayed line-drive power to all fields, had a good eye for the strike zone, and rarely struck out. For his en-