Jackie Robinson was one of the greatest trailblazers in sports history. He’s well known for a certain iconic “first”—but his entry into Major League Baseball was just one of many things Robinson did before anyone else. As we celebrate Robinson by remembering all of his historic firsts, we’ll start with one very famous fact.
First Black player in Major League Baseball
In 1945, Robinson was playing on Negro League team the Kansas City Monarchs. When he was approached about playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm team, the Montreal Royals, Robinson was initially skeptical, worrying that they were looking for “a Negro who is afraid to fight back.” But he was convinced to join the Royals for the 1946 season, and he saw great support from the people of Montreal, who flocked to the stadium in unprecedented numbers. The very next season, he was called up to the majors, becoming the newest Brooklyn Dodger and the first Black player in MLB history.
First Rookie of the Year
When Major League Baseball created the Rookie of the Year award in 1947, Robinson was the first player to receive the honor, thanks to a vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Forty years later, the award was renamed the Jackie Robinson Award.
First Black MVP
In 1949, Robinson was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player, after working in the off season to improve his batting average from .296 to .342. That same year, he was the starting second baseman in the All-Star Game. It was the first to include Black players, but Robinson wasn’t the first and only Black All-Star—joining Robinson as the first African American All-Stars were Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and Larry Doby.
First Black vice president of a major U.S. corporation
After Robinson’s retirement in 1957, he took a job as vice president for personnel at Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee, breaking the color barrier in a whole new field.
First Black Hall of Famer
1962 marked the first year Robinson was eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame, as it was five years past his retirement from the sport. And indeed, Robinson was voted in, the first Black major leaguer to be honored in the Hall of Fame.
First Black MLB TV analyst
In 1965, Robinson was hired as an analyst for ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week—the first Black person to hold such a position.
First athlete with a universally retired number
On June 4, 1972—just a few months before Robinson’s death at age 53—the Dodgers retired his number, 42. Twenty-five years later, Robinson was greatly honored by Major League Baseball when No. 42 was universally retired across all teams. It was the first time any major sports league had honored a player this way. The retirement continues, with one exception. Each year on April 15—the anniversary of Robinson’s major league debut—MLB celebrates Jackie Robinson Day, in which all players on all teams wear the number 42. It’s a charming tribute to the man who helped change forever the face of Major League Baseball.
Originally published April 2015