Jackie Robinson and the Color Barrier

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When Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Jackie Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field in the first inning of a game against the Boston Braves on April 15th, 1947, he became the first Black player in the Major Leagues since 1884, when catcher Moses Walker played in 42 games for the Toledo Blue Stockings (Light 119). For the next 60 years, an unwritten rule separated the two races, but Robinson changed all of that. While he had a relatively uneventful day on the field, going 0-3,the 28 year old Jackie scored the deciding run in a 5-3 victory (Dunham). More importantly, however, Robinson’s appearance represented an impending permanent change in the nation’s pastime that would forever shape the forces of modern baseball. By becoming the first Black to play modernized baseball, Robinson opened the door for many other achievements and firsts by African Americans. This impact can still be seen today, as Robinson’s arrival set the precedence for the shift from baseball being an all white sport to a sport of all ethnic backgrounds by opening up racial barriers. It can also be said that the way that Jackie’s events unfolded helped to spearhead the Civil Rights movement by bringing to light the important issues that faced the Blacks, especially with his calm reaction to the daily death threats that he and his family received. Robinson starting the full integration of baseball also led to an era of dominance by the National League, winning a majority of the All Star games from 1950 to 1982. These dominant National League teams were led mostly by African American players, something that the American League was not as quick to pick up on. The overall impact of Jackie Robinson was widespread, as his effect on baseball is still seen today, with his number 42 jersey being retired by all of baseball in 1997 as a lasting tribute to the profound effect he had on modern baseball (Light 781).

Perhaps the most obvious impact of Jackie Robinson’s appearance in professional baseball was the racial barriers that it tore down. In the 1940s, baseball was largely considered to be a white man’s sport. However, with Jackie Robinson’s actions, he opened the door for other ethnic groups to be included in the Major Leagues. Eventually, most major league teams adopted large numbers of foreign born players onto their rosters, which not only helped sell tickets, but also made the club more diverse. In 1996, for example, the Los Angeles Dodgers led the league with 45.2% of all Major and minor league players from foreign countries (Light 347). At this time, the Dodgers’ pitching staff included two Dominicans, one Italian, one Mexican, and one Japanese in their starting rotation, and a Venezuelan, a Mexican, and two men from the United States in their bullpen. This ethnic diversity was not just seen in the Dodgers. The trend grew everywhere. By Opening Day 2003, 26.1% of all Major League players were foreign-born (Light 347). The biggest foreign integration came from the Latin community, mainly from Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Robinson’s effect on integration led to a renewed emphasis on foreign scouting for ballplayers in the mid 1900s, with Cuban shortstop Zoilo Versalles the prime example after winning the MVP award in 1965 and helping the Twins win the pennant (Light 239). Also key in the Hispanic integration was the scouting in the Dominican Republic. Following Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947, many teams sent scouts over to the Dominican Republic to evaluate top young players, with some clubs even starting baseball schools (Light 265). These happenings helped to usher in the careers of some Dominican greats such as the Alou brothers, Julio Franco, Pedro Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, and Sammy Sosa. Another country that gained prominence in the game was Japan. Japanese baseball players were routinely signed from the Japanese teams from the 1970s and on, with such important players as Ichiro Suzuki, Hideo Nomo, and Hideki Matsui. Japanese...
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