The man who would be selected by Branch Rickey to break the color barrier in modern baseball began his career in the Negro Leagues. In 1945 Robinson played his only season in black baseball as a shortstop with the Kansas City Monarchs. The former UCLA football All-American, had played college and semi-pro baseball, but was lacking professional experience. He strengthened their war-depleted infield and displayed the right attitude and winning spirit, typical of a college athlete. He proved to be an outstanding hitter for both average (.345) and power. On the bases he was an outstanding basestealer and an aggressive baserunner, who also utilized his speed with the bunt and hit-and-run.play.
The hustling ex-college man was one of best infielders in Negro leagues thta season and was expected to improve with more experience, but it was felt that shortstop was not his best position. He had some difficulty going into the hole and making the play. After being signed by the Dodgers, he was shifted to secondbase, a more suitable position at Montreal,and during his ten year major league career, he also played on both corners and in the outfield. Robinson’s role as the first black ballplayer in the majors during modern times has been well chronicled.
After signing with Rickey in the winter of 1945, he accompanied a black All-Star team to Venezuela. The other players saw Rickey talking to Robinson at the airport before they left, but when they asked about the conversation, Robinson told them it was pertaining to a new black league that Rickey was organizing. Later, when Rickey made the announcement about the true topic of discussion, Robinson was in Venezuela. During the intervening winter, he expressed doubts to roommate Gene Benson about his ability to make it with the Dodgers. Benson reassured him that if he could hit the pitching in the Negro Leagues, he could hit major league pitching.
The records bear out Benson’s prediction. After a year of adjustment with Montreal, where Robinson hit .349, he joined the Dodgers and hit .297, while stealing a league high 29 bases, and was being voted Rookie of the Year while the Dodgers won the National League pennant. Two years later, he had his best year, winning the batting title with a .342 average, leading the league in stolen bases with 37, hitting 16 homers and knocking in 124 runs, while leading the Dodgers to another pennant.
For the next five seasons he was the catalyst for the Dodgers, with his exciting baserunning and clutch hitting (.328, .338, .308, .329 and .311), and the Dodger won two more pennants in 1952-53, but again lost the World Series to the Yankees each time. But in 1955, although Robinson had his worst major league season, the Dodgers finally beat the Yankees in the Series. The next year he hit .275, and the Dodgers won another pennant, their fourth in five years. But when the Dodger traded him during the off-season, he retired from baseball with a .311 lifetime average. Five years later he was voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Robinson, Jack Roosevelt (Jackie)
Career: 1945 Position: ss
Teams: Kansas City Monarchs
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Height: 5’11 1/2″ Weight: 190
Born: January 31, 1919, Cairo, Ga.
Died: October 24, 1972, Stamford, Conn.