Celebrating Jackie’s Legacy (Part One)

By BASN Wire Services
Updated: April 15, 2009

KANSAS CITY — The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM), in recognition of the 62nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball and in celebration of Robinson’s Negro League roots, has released its “Top 5 Game-Changing Moments in Major League Baseball History.”

The list was developed by the NLBM as part of it’s “Before He Was #42” campaign to raise awareness of Robinson’s Negro League roots. The list was created to acknowledge social milestones by African-American baseball players that helped advance Major League Baseball while celebrating, in the spirit of the Negro Leagues, the courage and passion of those African-American baseball pioneers who helped changed the game

1. Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers ( April 15, 1947): Jackie Robinson’s breaking of Major League Baseball’s self-imposed color barrier was arguably the most important social event of the American 20th Century. Robinson, hand picked from the Negro Leagues’ Kansas City Monarchs, took the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947 breaking a six-decade long ban of Black players in the Major Leagues and starting the ball of social progress rolling. Under extreme social pressure, Robinson succeeded in a game that is difficult to play under the best of circumstances while carrying the weight of an entire race on his shoulders

2. Hank Aaron passes Babe Ruth to become baseball’s all-time home run leader ( April 8, 1974): The benchmark of all sports records came crashing down at the hand of the Hammer. Hank Aaron withstood hate mail, countless death threats and the emotional distress of having his family in hiding during his historic pursuit to break Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. On April 8, 1974 in Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium, Aaron replaced the Babe in the baseball record books when he hit number 715. America fell in love with the grace, class, dignity and humility he showed in the face of tremendous adversity

3. Curt Flood’s refusal to accept trade to the Philadelphia Phillies ( October 7, 1969): No player in Major League Baseball history, and few in sports history, has had a more significant impact on sports labor than Curt Flood. In a bold and defiant stand, the St. Louis Cardinal all-star refused to accept a trade that would have sent him to Philadelphia Phillies forfeiting a relative lucrative $100,000-a-year contract. Flood took his case all the way to the Supreme Court citing that Major League Baseball’s reserve clause was unconstitutional. Even though Flood eventually lost his case in a 5-3 Supreme Court ruling, his challenge brought about additional solidarity among players as they fought against baseball’s reserve clause and paved the way for free agency

4. Frank Robinson becomes the first African-American manager with the Cleveland Indians ( April 8, 1975): Nearly three decades after Robinson breaks the color barrier as a player in the Major Leagues, Frank Robinson becomes the Major’s first African-American manager. Robinson’s appointment as a manager of the Indians in October 1974 was a media event that drew a congratulatory telegram from President Gerald Ford. In his first game as playing manager on April 8, 1975, Robinson homered in his first at bat to lead the Indians to a 5-3 win over the New York Yankees. Robinson’s 1975 Indians finished at 79-80, and the following year the team’s 81-78 mark was Cleveland’s first winning season since 1968.

5. Larry Doby’s breaking of the color barrier in the American League ( July 5, 1947): Who was the second man on the moon? It’s rare that we remember the second person in history. But, we should. While the world was watching Robinson, few paid much attention to a talented infielder signed away from the Newark Eagles by the Cleveland Indians just a few weeks later. Larry Doby made his Major League debut with the Indians on July 5, 1947 and was thrown into a powder keg of racism as a 22-year-old youngster. Doby never played a single day in the Minor Leagues making the jump from the Negro Leagues to Cleveland. He played in only 29 games his rookie season in a world of isolation. Some 15 months later, Doby got a companion in the legendary Satchel Paige. The two Negro League players helped the Indians win the 1948 World Series.

NEXT: Other black baseball pioneers and teammates of Jackie.