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Collection By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s

Robinson as a Dodger: 1947 to 1956

When he began playing for the Dodgers in 1947, at age 28, Jackie Robinson was older than the typical rookie. Baseball fans and players reacted to Robinson with everything from unbridled enthusiasm evident in newspaper headlines, to wariness and open hostility expressed in beanball pitches and death threats. His athletic abilities prevailed despite the intense pressures caused by breaking the "color line." Robinson won respect and became a symbol of black opportunity. The Sporting News, which had opposed blacks in the major leagues, gave Robinson its first Rookie of the Year Award in 1947. The award was renamed in Robinson's honor in 1987.

After a few seasons of playing well while tolerating racial insults, Robinson stepped up his playing style and spoke out often. He stirred controversy by protesting -- umpires' calls, hotels that refused to let him stay with his teammates, and teams that refused to hire black players. Robinson's outstanding 10-year career included compiling a .311 lifetime batting average, playing in six World Series, and stealing home 19 times. He also won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1949, when he led the league with a .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases. His impressive running speed, powerful hitting, and strong fielding made Robinson a key player on a team with many stars. In Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn describes the Dodgers during these years, including Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, and Duke Snider

Jackie Robinson's story quickly captured the nation's imagination, and it was retold through American popular culture in many different forms. The Library of Congress has a wide variety of examples: movies, radio shows, sheet music, comic books, sport magazines. Many American stories can be traced through popular culture and summarized, as they are here, by drawing together materials located in different divisions of the Library. For more information on using original source materials, see About the Collection.

Branch Rickey offered many, sometimes conflicting, reasons for his desire to integrate baseball. Initially, Rickey maintained that he hired Robinson because of his desire to put the best possible team on the field. Before multi-million dollar broadcasting contracts were the norm, teams relied almost exclusively on ticket sales to pay their expenses--spring training, travel, player salaries, stadium upkeep--and make a profit. Attendance was always higher for winning teams, and Rickey was not alone in believing that African-American players could improve his team. The Dodgers succeeded well with such black stars as Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Don Newcombe. As shown in a 1955 interview in the Rickey Papers, Rickey later acknowledged that his belief in equal rights was also a strong motive in signing African Americans to the Dodgers.

After one of the Dodgers' co-owners died, Rickey sold his stock in the team in the fall of 1950 and joined the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Robinson expressed his appreciation for Rickey in a hand-written letter preserved in the Rickey Papers.

After Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson opened the door for black players in organized baseball, a few others soon followed. In that first year, Dan Bankhead pitched for the Dodgers, Larry Doby played for the American League Cleveland Indians, and Henry Thompson and Willard Brown played briefly for the St. Louis Browns. Although some major league teams began to integrate right away, it was twelve years until the last major league team integrated in 1959.

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