Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball is the annual day of remembrance for the man who broke the sport’s modern color barrier on April 15, 1947. Today marks the 75th anniversary of the former UCLA student-athlete stepping out onto the grass of Ebbets Field for the first time as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, setting into motion a career that would inspire not just Bruins and ballplayers, but people all over the world, for generations to come.
“Jackie Robinson’s impact on society is immeasurable,” said Martin Jarmond, the Alice and Nahum Lanier Family Director of Athletics at UCLA. “What he accomplished through adversity demonstrated a level of resilience, sacrifice and love that serves as a model for all of us to this day. I am afforded the opportunity to serve here at UCLA in part because of the trail he blazed.”
From the bronze statue on the grounds of the baseball facility named in his honor, to the “42” monument in the heart of Bruin Plaza, Robinson’s legacy across the UCLA community is immense. His number is retired across all UCLA Athletics programs and Major League Baseball, demonstrating reverence to the man who overcame obstacles and discrimination with grace and dignity illuminating the path for those who followed.
Here are 42 facts to help celebrate Robinson’s dynamic career and illustrate his monumental legacy.
- Robinson was born on Jan. 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. He was the youngest of five children and raised by his mother, Mallie, who moved the family to Pasadena, California.
- Robinson’s middle name, Roosevelt, is a nod to President Theodore Roosevelt, who died less than a month before Robinson was born.
- Matthew Robinson, Jackie’s older brother, helped inspired him to pursue athletic endeavors at the highest level. Matthew won a silver medal in the 200-meter dash at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, finishing behind American track and field legend, Jesse Owens.
- Robinson attended UCLA from 1939–41 and lettered in four sports for the Bruins: baseball, football, basketball, and track and field.
- In 1940, in his first baseball game for UCLA, Robinson went 4-for-4 at the plate and stole four bases.
- Though Robinson would become a Hall of Fame baseball player, he struggled as a Bruin. In his lone season on the team, he hit .097 in California Intercollegiate Baseball Association play, but he routinely earned a spot in the lineup for his expert base-running and strong fielding.
- Robinson was the football team’s leading rusher in 1940 and compiled a team-leading 827 yards of total offense that season.
- Robinson led the nation in punt return average in 1939 and 1940. His career average of 18.8 yards per return ranks fourth in NCAA history.
- As a member of UCLA’s men’s basketball team, Robinson twice led the southern division of the Pacific Coast Conference in scoring. He was also an all-conference selection in 1940.
- Robinson won the NCAA broad jump title in 1940 and qualified to compete in the event at the 1940 Olympics in Tokyo. The games were canceled because of World War II.
- In 1941, Robinson played semi-pro football with the Honolulu Bears. Notably, he played his last game with the team at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 5, just two days before the attack.
- Robinson served in the US Army from 1942–44. During his service, he was arrested and court martialed for refusing to sit in the back of a military bus. He was later acquitted on all charges and received an honorable discharge from the military.
- In 1945, Robinson signed to play professional baseball in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs. He fought against discrimination during his tenure with the Monarchs, including standing up to a gas station owner in Oklahoma who barred Robinson and his teammates from using the restroom.
- In 1946, Robinson married Rachel Isum, a nursing student whom he met while at UCLA. The couple had three children: Jackie Jr., Sharon and David.
- Robinson was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league affiliate, the Montreal Royals, in 1946. He led the International League in hitting and helped the Royals to the league title and a Junior World Series championship in his only season in the minors.
- Robinson made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, becoming the first Black player to play in modern Major League Baseball.
- Robinson went on to become close friends with Larry Doby, who broke the American League color barrier after appearing for the Cleveland Indians in July 1947. This milestone came just three months after Robinson broke the National League’s color barrier with the Dodgers.
- Robinson won Major League Baseball’s Rookie of the Year award following the 1947 season, a year that saw him hit .297 from the plate and compile 175 hits and a league-leading 29 stolen bases.
- Robinson paved the way for other Black baseball players to shine in the major leagues, as 150 Black ballplayers entered the majors in the five years following his debut. Including Robinson, 11 of the 14 National League MVPs from 1949 through 1962 were Black.
- Robinson won Major League Baseball’s MVP award following the 1949 season, which saw him hit .342 and compile 203 hits, 124 runs batted in, and 37 stolen bases.
- Robinson won a World Series with the Dodgers in 1955.
- Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947–1956, appearing in 1,382 games and recording a .311 career batting average.
- Robinson was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year on the ballot. He became the first Black player to be enshrined.
- Robinson participated in the March on Washington in 1963, at which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
- In 1964, Robinson helped found Freedom National Bank in Harlem, and later in Brooklyn. The bank was established out of protest against white financial institutions that discriminated against African Americans. Freedom National Bank soon became the most successful black-operated financial institution in the country.
- Robinson became the first Black television sports analyst, serving as a commentator for ABC’s baseball broadcasts during the 1965 season.
- Robinson made his final public appearance in 1972, when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 2 of the World Series. He accepted a plaque commemorating the 25th anniversary of his major league debut.
- Robinson died of a heart attack on Oct. 24, 1972. His last words, spoken to his wife, Rachel, were, “I love you.” Pallbearers at his funeral included basketball legend Bill Russell, his Dodger teammates Don Newcombe, Pee Wee Reese and Ralph Branca, as well as Doby.
- A year after her husband’s death, Rachel Robinson established the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The institution administers one of the nation’s premier scholarship and leadership development programs for the minority college students.
- UCLA’s baseball stadium was built in 1981 and named in his honor. A statue of Robinson is now prominent on the grounds of the facility.
- Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on March 26, 1984.
- Also in 1984, Robinson was posthumously inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame, becoming one of the hall’s charter members. He was inducted with such UCLA legends as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, John Wooden and Rafer Johnson.
- Robinson’s number, 42, was retired by Major League Baseball on April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s breaking of the league’s color barrier. It was the first number to be retired from all teams in Major League Baseball.
- Robinson was named to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team in 1999.
- In honor of “Jackie Robinson Day,” every Major League Baseball player and coach wears the number 42.
- Robinson’s wife, Rachel, received the UCLA Medal in 2009, the campus’s highest honor. In 2013, at an event for the movie, “42,” former First Lady Michelle Obama said, “He competed as hard as he could at everything he did so that his gifts wouldn’t go to waste, and Rachel Robinson was in every way his equal.”
- The movie, “42”, which chronicles Robinson’s career as a professional baseball player, was released on April 13, 2013. The late Chadwick Boseman played the role of Robinson.
- On Nov. 21, 2014, UCLA announced that a series of 22 recreation and athletics facilities, including the JD Morgan Athletics Center and Pauley Pavilion presented by Wescom, would be named the Jackie Robinson Athletics and Recreation Complex. An in-ground number 42 also exists at each entry point to UCLA’s competition venues and training facilities.
- On Nov. 22, 2014, UCLA Athletics announced the number 42 would be retired across all sports in honor of Robinson. Ally Courtnall (women’s soccer), Jelly Felix (softball) and Kenny Young (football) were the last Bruin student-athletes to don the iconic number.
- A bronze “42” statue was unveiled on March 5, 2016 outside the John Wooden Recreation Center. Inscribed with one of Robinson’s most famous sayings — “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives” — it’s the central monument of the Jackie Robinson Athletics and Recreation Complex.
- A statue of Robinson was unveiled at Dodger Stadium on April 15, 2017. The 800-pound, eight-foot structure depicts Robinson sliding into home plate.
- The Jackie Robinson Museum is set to open in Spring, 2022. It totals 19,380 square feet in New York City and features 40,000 historical images and 4,500 artifacts.
Jackie Robinson statue at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium.