Jackie Robinson changed the world by playing Major League Baseball.
Yet, it was never his goal to play the game at its highest level.
Robinson played professional baseball after WWII, according to Los Angeles Dodgers’ Historian Mark Langill and South Pasadena resident, because he was just trying to make money.
“His original goal was to coach or be an athletic director, but it was never a dream to be a major leaguer because it didn’t seem like a possibility at the time because of the circumstances.”
Those circumstances revolved around Robinson facing adversity and racism, which helped pave the way for the civil right’s movement. Breaking the color barrier in 1947, harsh criticism came from fans and players, including his own teammates.
“He had no idea he was being scouted when he played for the Kansas City Monarchs,” explained Langill, referring to 1945, the one year Robinson played shortstop in the Negro Leagues.
Robinson was a four-sport athlete at John Muir High School in Pasadena, competing in football, basketball, baseball, and track. He later took his extreme talent to Pasadena Junior College before heading to UCLA, where he lettered in four sports at the university in his first year.
“After UCLA, he played professional football with the Honolulu Bears,” said Langill. “After his discharge from the military, he needed to make money. Just think about how history would have changed if one of those schools he had applied would have said yes, we want you to be our coach, we want you to be an athletic director.”
Robinson wouldn’t have broken major League Baseball’s color barrier and become the hero he is today.
Brooklyn Dodgers President and General Manager Branch Rickey, before signing Robinson, questioned whether the young ballplayer would be able to keep his temper in check while displaying the courage and strength necessary to overcome public taunts and criticism. It was deliberated at length by Rickey before Robinson broke the color line.
“Everyone assumes his goal was to play Major League Baseball,” explained Langill, noting, “the Branch Rickey – Jackie Robinson combination is the greatest accident the sport could ever hope for.”
Langill told the story before a program last week in the South Pasadena Library Community Room honoring the 100th Birthday of Robinson, which featured a free screening of “The Jackie Robinson Story.”
The screening was sponsored by the library, the Friends of the Library, and the Lucille and Edward R. Roybal Foundation.
Introductions to the film were made by Langill, Steve Fjeldsted, the director of the South Pasadena Library, Alex Boekelheide, the executive director of Strategic Communications and Marketing at Pasadena City College, South Pasadena Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian and Robinson’s niece, Rosie Robinson, who also sang the National Anthem.
On April 15, 1947, following one season with the International League’s Montreal Royals, and a little over two years removed from playing in Army-based contests, Robinson took Ebbets Field, on opening day as the Brooklyn Dodgers’ starting second baseman.
And, well, as they say, the rest is history.