Jackie Robinson: 5 interesting facts about his MLB debut
Jackie Robinson made his Major League debut in 1947, breaking the color barrier, an historic achievement that should never be forgotten.
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson walked onto Ebbets Field wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform, a black player in a white league. The all-world athlete from UCLA became a symbol of what is possible in America.
He projected on newspapers and black-and-white television screens the image of an African American excelling at something that many white Americans believed was reserved only for them. Maybe, just maybe, the color of a person’s skin wasn’t their most defining characteristic. Jackie taught America this valuable lesson when he suited up in a Major League uniform for the first time.
To celebrate the anniversary of his first MLB game, I thought it would be fun to highlight five things that you might not have known about the history-making debut.
1. Robinson started at first base
Most people, rightfully, remember Jackie Robinson as a second baseman. But with Eddie Stanky already cemented at second and Pee Wee Reese at shortstop, Robinson played his rookie season at first base. Playing in an unnatural position, he committed 16 errors, second most in the National League. However, he quickly picked up on the finer techniques of the position, finishing third in the National League in assists, and first in double plays turned as a first baseman.
2. Robinson only learned he would make his debut five days earlier
When Branch Rickey decided to officially sign Jackie Robinson, it was in the middle of an exhibition game between Robinson’s Royals and the Dodgers at Ebbets Field. Rickey was sitting in the stands with National League president, Ford Fick, when he made the sudden announcement. A press release was issued in the middle of the game, and before Rickey could officially tell Robinson, he was on his way to becoming the first African-American player in modern baseball. Five days later he made his MLB debut.
3. Robinson quickly learned the Majors was faster
In the bottom of the 5th with the game tied at one, Jackie Robinson came to the plate with runners on first and third and one out. He grounded into an inning-ending double play to kill the rally, but that wasn’t what was the most upsetting to Robinson after the game. He told reporters, “I must not have been hustling,” noting that he would have beaten the play out in the International League, and in the Majors, he can’t ease up and needs to be a lot faster. Something he surely proved over the remainder of his career with a propensity to steal home plate.
4. Robinson scored the winning run despite not getting a hit
In his Major League debut, Robinson went hitless at the plate in four plate appearances. But he ended up scoring the winning run after reaching base on an error. In the bottom of the 7th, with the Dodgers down one run, Jackie tried to bunt Eddie Stanky to second base after he led-off the inning with a walk. Earl Torgeson made a throwing error to first base, allowing Robinson and Stanky to advance to second and third with nobody out. A Pete Reiser double scored both runs, with Robinson proving the winning fourth run of the game.
5. Robinson wasn’t nervous at all
When asked by reporters after the game if he was nervous about making his historical debut in the Major Leagues, Jackie Robinson said he wasn’t at all. He said he didn’t feel any “butterflies” and added, “I wish I could say I did, because then maybe I’d have an alibi if I don’t do so good.” Robinson finished his first game 0-3 at the plate, but would end up winning Rookie of the Year during his debut season.
If you are looking for more information on Jackie Robinson, on Wednesday, the Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF) will launch the “Jackie Robinson Day Virtual Learning Hub,” a platform dedicated to deliver educational programming to teachers and parents for students in grades K-12, at JRLegacy.org.
On Wednesday, Major League Baseball will celebrate a virtual Jackie Robinson Day in place of the on-field tradition of having players across the sport wear #42. MLB.com and MLB Network will be airing Jackie-themed content throughout the day.
Special thanks to Newspapers.com for their historical collection of newspapers that helped provide background information for this article.