The Los Angeles Dodgers hold a special place in the history of both baseball and the civil rights movement. That’s all thanks to one man whose courage, wisdom, and determination proved that the battle for equal rights could be won.
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson made his major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first African American to break baseball’s color barrier. Robinson was a great player — he earned National League Rookie of the Year honors in 1947 and in 1949 was named NL MVP when he led the league in hitting with a .342 average, had 37 steals, and a career-high 124 RBIs — but he became an American hero. He was strong enough to battle against hatred by putting up a fight without fighting back. He battled with his bat, glove, and base running skills.
Since 2004, Major League Baseball has honored Robinson and his importance to the game — and America — by celebrating Jackie Robinson Day every April 15. But yesterday’s Jackie Robinson game in LA was something special. It was also MLB’s annual Civil Rights Game, which not only celebrated Robinson but the contributions of African Americans to the game of baseball.
The day began with a roundtable discussion about baseball and civil rights. Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, was a member of the panel. She was joined by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, Dodgers owner and NBA great Magic Johnson, and MLB legend Frank Robinson, who broke another baseball color barrier by becoming the league’s first African American manager when he became the Cleveland Indians bench boss in 1975.
There were also plenty of pre-game festivities, featuring Rachel Robinson, Magic Johnson, and other all-time baseball greats, like Sandy Koufax and Don Newcombe. Newcombe also participating in a pre-game press conference about Jackie Robinson and the Civil Rights Game. Newcombe was Robinson’s teammate in Brooklyn, and he had a unique view on what allowed him to battle against hatred.
“The fact is that Jackie Robinson had one thing in his make-up and that was, he hated to lose,” Newcombe said. “The word lose was not in his vocabulary whatsoever. He wanted to win and he did not believe in losing.”
Jackie Robinson’s legacy is about winning — winning a fight for what is right and winning in the game of baseball. And the Dodgers honored that legacy by earning a W, too. They defeated Seattle, 5-2, to earn a three-game sweep of Mariners.
You can watch more from the Jackie Robinson and Civil Rights Day press conference below:
Photos: Alex Gallardo/AP, Max Ferregur