Next Friday will mark 36 years since we lost the greatest athlete, and possibly the greatest man, the world had ever seen—Mr. Jack Roosevelt Robinson.
I don't think anyone has to be reminded of what Mr. Robinson did to integrate baseball and eventually all sports. As a celebrated Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodger and UCLA student-athlete, his story hits especially close to home.
Even without this ground-breaking feat, Mr. Robinson would still have been a well-decorated athlete. The civil implications of his feats are only a small part in a life full of unprecedented achievements.
Let's begin in college. In 1940, he became UCLA's first four-sport varsity athlete. He participated in football, basketball and track and field, in addition to baseball.
As a pioneering institution in breaking the color barrier, Mr. Robinson was one of four black players on the UCLA football team in 1939. The game against USC Trojans that year marked the first time where a national championship berth was on the line.
The game ended in a scoreless draw. The Trojans would eventually head into the 1940 Rose Bowl and win a national championship.
After withdrawing from UCLA, Mr. Robinson went on to play semi-professional football in Honolulu. Pearl Harbor was attacked shortly before he returned.
He was drafted into the Army in 1942 and was eventually court-martialed on a number of charges. The court-martial was the result of Mr. Robinson refusing to ride in the back of an non-segregated army bus. He was later cleared of all charges.
In 1946, Mr. Robinson made his debut with the Montreal Royals, a Dodgers AA affiliate. He became the first black player to play AA baseball without attempting to hide his ethnicity. Robinson had a batting average of nearly .350.
In April of the next year, he became the first black player to play major league ball since it was segregated in 1887. He didn't have a single hit in his debut win with the Dodgers, but went on to win the first ever Rookie of the Year Award the year.
He became the first black recipient of the NL MVP Award in 1949, batting .342 with 37 stolen bases. The following year, he would receive the highest salary of any Dodger in history to that point.
In his short ten-year career, Mr. Robinson would go on to claim six World Series titles and six All-Star appearances.
In October of 1972, ten days after making his final public appearance to express his hope for a minority manager in baseball, Mr. Robinson passed away. A heart attack at the age of 53 was the way he went.
The Dodgers retired his number shortly thereafter.
25 years later, the MLB retired his number from every team. Once Mariano Rivera's career is over, no MLB player will ever wear number 42 again.
Posthumously, Mr. Robinson has been inducted into several halls of fame and his image graces countless establishments. Pictures, sculptures and memorials are scattered throughout this great country.
This is only fitting for such a great athlete who was even greater off the field.
Mr. Jackie Robinson, we salute you.
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