Jackie Robinson’s accomplishments transcend statistics, so much so that the numbers he did accumulate — which happen to be quite impressive — are dwarfed by his significance as a man.
Excelling as a Brooklyn Dodger proved to be necessary for Robinson, however. His prowess enabled him not only to smash down the door that barred African Americans from Major League Baseball, but to hold it open for others.
Here’s a look at 10 select times and events from Robinson’s life and career, from the symbolic to the specific.
1. Meeting “the Mahatma”
Aug. 28, 1945
This is the date of the initial meeting between Robinson and Dodgers president Branch Rickey. Rickey, nicknamed “the Mahatma,” tested Robinson’s resolve by simulating ugly situations that the 26-year-old would encounter as the man assigned to integrate the Major Leagues. As cited in Jules Tygiel’s book “Baseball’s Great Experiment,” Rickey “portrayed the hostile teammate, the abusive opponent, the insulting fan, the obstinate hotel clerk.” Then came the now-legendary exchange, as Robinson asked, “Mr. Rickey, do you want a ballplayer who’s afraid to fight back?” Rickey responded, “I want a player with guts enough not to fight back.”
2. A true Opening Day
April 15, 1947
Robinson officially broke baseball’s color barrier by starting at first base for the Dodgers in their season opener against the Boston Braves. He batted second, went 0-for-3, and scored the tying run after reaching base on a throwing error in the seventh inning. Brooklyn prevailed, 5-3. By the end of the year, Robinson would be so popular that an Associated Press poll named him the nation’s second-most admired man behind entertainer Bing Crosby.
3. The best revenge
April 22, 1947
For most of the day, most of the Philadelphia Phillies, led by manager Ben Chapman, unleashed torrents of racial abuse upon Robinson, who had been prohibited by Rickey from uttering a single word in return. Robinson coped in the best way possible: He singled to lead off the eighth inning, stole second base and advanced to third on an accompanying throwing error, and scored the game’s lone run on Gene Hermanski’s single.
4. He earned it
Sept. 27, 1947
Robinson’s first Major League season ended on this day as a thorough success. He batted .297, scored 125 runs, stole a National League-high 29 bases, won the NL’s Rookie of the Year Award (which would be renamed in his honor in 1987) and finished fifth in Most Valuable Player Award balloting.
5. Joining the elite
Oct. 2, 1949
Robinson ended his finest season on this date with a league-best .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases, complementing his 122 runs, 124 RBIs and a .960 OPS. Firmly entrenched as a big leaguer, he won the NL MVP Award, topping St. Louis star Stan Musial in the writers’ balloting.
6. Good with the glove
A remarkably versatile athlete, Robinson proved to be a capable defender at first and second base, as well as in left field, although second base was his best spot. He led the NL in double plays turned by a second baseman from 1949-52; topped the league’s second basemen in fielding percentage in 1948, ’50 and ’51; and — venturing into more modern metrics — ranked third among NL second basemen in range factor per nine innings in 1948, ’51 and ’52.
7. Prolonging the season
Sept. 30, 1951
Having squandered what had been a 13-game lead in the NL standings on Aug. 11, the Dodgers entered the regular-season finale at Philadelphia needing a victory to keep pace with the upstart New York Giants and force a best-of-three playoff. This contest was a tour de force for Robinson, whose RBI triple in the fifth inning sparked Brooklyn’s comeback from a four-run deficit. Playing second base, he preserved an 8-8 tie in the 12th inning when he dove to snare Eddie Waitkus’ line drive, which would have driven in the winning run had the ball gone through to the outfield. Then, with two outs in the 14th, Robinson broke the tie by homering off Robin Roberts. The Dodgers’ victory set up the three-game tiebreaker with the Giants and their fateful date with the Giants’ Bobby Thomson three days later.
8. Power outburst
June 17, 1954
Though Robinson never hit 20 home runs in a season, pitchers who underestimated his sheer strength did so at their own peril. On this afternoon at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, Robinson homered twice and doubled twice in a 6-4 loss to the Milwaukee Braves.
9. A demon on the basepaths
Sept. 28, 1955
Robinson’s theft of home plate in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium typified his panache as a baserunner. He averaged 23 stolen bases per season in an era when such larceny was discouraged. Even in Robinson’s final two seasons, when his skills had declined, he was successful on 24 of 32 tries. He stole home 19 times — each one a “straight” steal, unaided by the distraction of a double-steal. For the lucky ones who saw him perform, the images of Robinson dancing off a base, steamrolling toward an opponent covering first base or hurling himself at a middle infielder in an attempt to break up a double play are indelible.
10. Striving until the end
Oct. 15, 1972
Speaking at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium before Game 2 of the World Series, a quarter-century after he broke into the Majors, Robinson pushed for African Americans to receive more opportunities to manage professionally. “I am extremely proud and pleased to be here this afternoon,” said Robinson, who died nine days later. “But I must admit, I am going to be tremendously more pleased and more proud when I look at the third-base coaching line one day and see a black face managing in baseball.”
Before the 1975 season, the Cleveland Indians obliterated that barrier by hiring Frank Robinson as player-manager.