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A classic case of gone too soon. When Jack Roosevelt Robinson passed away in the early morning hours on October 24th, 1972, he was a mere 53 years old. Illness and heart disease had ravaged his body, but at no point was anything able to break his spirit. Aside from the incredible things Robinson accomplished on the field, what was more spectacular was the valiance he displayed off the field. He was a fighter. He had to be in order to endure all he had to and to accomplish what he accomplished. Without spirit, breaking baseball’s color barrier 72 years ago would have been impossible. The level to which Jackie was a pioneer cannot be overestimated. To do what he did, to go through what he went through, to achieve what he achieved is something that simply put, could not have been done by anyone else. Jackie opened the door for athletes of color in professional baseball, basketball, and football. After his retirement from baseball after the 1956 season, Robinson’s impact was in no way diminished.
Robinson once told Hank Aaron that “The game of baseball is great, but the greatest thing is what you do after your career is over.” Jackie lived by those words and did incredible things once his career ended. A skilled businessman, he became an executive at Chock Full O’Nuts upon retirement. This was the first of many executive positions he held. He went on to serve on the boards of an insurance firm, an interracial construction firm, a fast food-franchising rim, and the New York State Athletic Commission as well as serving as the board chairman of the Freedom National Bank in Harlem. Outspoken, and never compromising, Robinson stayed very active in the political arena while supporting who he felt was right and just. In 1965, he broke another barrier becoming the first African American to broadcast national baseball games after being hired by ABC’s MLB game of the week broadcasts. Jackie was active in campaigns against drug addiction, a cause close to his heart due to his son’s struggles. He was so active, in fact, that the day of his death he was scheduled to attend a symposium on the matter in Washington.
Jackie continued to fight the good fight all the way up to his last public appearance on October 15th, 1972. To mark the 25th anniversary of his first Major League season, he threw out the first pitch of Game 2 of the World Series. While gracious for the recognition he received during the ceremony, Robinson famously asserted, “I’m going to be tremendously more pleased and more proud when I look at that third base coaching line one day and see a black face managing in baseball.” Two years later, although he was not alive to see it, Jackie got his wish when the late great Frank Robinson was made the manager of the Cleveland Indians. It’s undisputed that this feat was the direct result of Jackie Robinson to back down in the face of adversity. His example motivated men like Frank Robinson and countless others to make their own mark on the game of baseball.
Humble all the way to the grave, Robinson requested that Hall of Fame voters only take into consideration his accomplishments on the field into their decision. He was elected in his first year of eligibility in 1962, the first to be elected on their first ballot since the hall’s original class was inducted in 1936. In addition to his request to voters, he also requested that his Hall of Fame plaque bear no mention of his shattering of the color barrier. With the blessing of his family, the plaque was edited in 2008 to include a mention of the integration. Robinson’s passion and devotion to others will never be forgotten, and in 1997, Jackie’s jersey was retired by all Major League clubs. This made it where no man shall ever wear the number 42 again. Beginning in 2004, the MLB began observing Jackie Robinson day, whereas a sign of equality all players, managers, and coaches wear number 42 on April 15th, the anniversary of Robinson’s first Major League Game. Jackie Robinson’s impact is one that continues to make waves and will never be lost in history.
Jacob Hales is a contributing content writer for Vintage Sports, and specializes in baseball.