Jackie Robinson Day in Syracuse

By BRAD HORN

When Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier 65 years ago – on April 15, 1947 at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field against the Boston Braves – he crossed the white lines on to that baseball field because he loved the game. Though he went hitless in three at-bats that April afternoon, he scored a run and handled 11 putouts at FIRST base – not the second base bag where he would become a fixture – and played the game with grace and class.

He achieved this despite having very few folks in his corner – on his team, on the opposition, in the ballpark, in the media. Perhaps only Branch Rickey, the Dodgers executive who signed Robinson, was supportive of that moment.

Had Jackie simply played the game on April 15, he would still be an important figure in American history for doing what was – at the time – thought to be the impossible. An African-American playing Major League Baseball.

Jackie Robinson’s current plaque is featured in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
(National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

But the excellence of Jack Roosevelt Robinson is that he was truly great – on the field, as a person, and in understanding his responsibility bestowed upon him on April 15, 1947.

Over the course of the next 10 major league seasons, Robinson would become one of the most dynamic players the game has ever known. He would go on to win the 1947 Rookie of the Year Award, an honor most everyone would have thought impossible on April 15 of that year.

The life of Jackie Robinson is one that we celebrate every day in Cooperstown. His impact on American culture is truly greater than the game. Players come and go. Milestones are achieved. Records are broken. But there will always be only one Jackie Robinson.

On Sunday – Jackie Robinson Day throughout baseball – we traveled his original Hall of Fame plaque to Alliance Stadium in Syracuse for fans to see how his career was immortalized in 1962, when he was elected as a first-ballot Hall of Fame player, five years after his retirement. Jackie was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame because of his achievements on the field, not because he was the first African-American to play the game.

The reference to his being the first was purposely omitted from his original plaque. Robinson did not want to be remembered simply as the first. He – and so many others – knew that he was elected to the Hall of Fame because he was one of the game’s best all-around players.

Today, when you visit Cooperstown, you will see a new plaque to honor Jackie Robinson. In 2008, the Museum took the unprecedented step to include language on his plaque to reflect his role in breaking the color barrier. With a passage of 50 years this summer since his Hall of Fame election, it is imperative that future generations know his role was very much a part of the legacy of Jackie Robinson today.

For without Jackie, and without the tremendous courage he displayed in the face of adversity and severe injustice, the game’s opportunities for players of so many cultures and races might not be possible.

Brad Horn is the senior director of communications and education for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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