Baseball legend and national hero Jackie Robinson was born in the small farm town of Cairo, Georgia. The youngest of five children, and brother of an Olympic medalist, Robinson lived the life of a kid who was destined for athletic greatness. He was a lettered athlete in track and field, basketball, baseball and football at Pasadena's John Muir High School. He then repeated that feat as a collegiate athlete at UCLA.
However, as everyone knows, the most significant and accomplished of Robinson's days didn't occur during his time as a student. After a few seasons playing his trade in the Negro Leagues, and a year after having a farce of a tryout for the Boston Red Sox, Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946.
He subsequently became the first colored player to perform in the minor leagues in the 20th century, before achieving the same on his debut for the Dodgers on April 15, 1947, a day that will forever live in baseball lore. On his way to completing ten stellar seasons in Brooklyn, Robinson had to face obstacles that no other player was subject to. That alone makes him a legendary success, from whom we can all take a few lessons:
At The End Of The Day, Skill Is Undeniable
The further and further you dip into the past, the worse, one would have to admit, race relations were in America. The fact that Robinson was born in 1919 means that he had a massive uphill battle to face in terms getting a fair chance in life, never mind sports. Even then, his excellence carried him to the top. He was excellent in high school, excellent in college, excellent in the Negro Leagues and, eventually, excellent in the Major Leagues.
Make no mistake, though. Robinson's place in history isn't reserved simply because he broke the color barrier, although that would be enough to warrant it. Robinson was a flat-out superstar. Over the course of his ten seasons in the MLB, Robinson was an All-Star six times, a league MVP, a batting champion, a two-time steal leader and, most importantly, a World Series champion.
Many people people around the league, fans, team officials and even his own teammates at one point, tried to hold Jackie Robinson back. The sad truth is that if he wasn't as good, they may have succeeded. However, he was that good. He made the hits, he attracted the crowds, and he was quite simply a player of exceptional skill that could not be denied -- racial tension or not.
Someone Has To Do It
Before Robinson signed with Brooklyn, Dodgers President and General Manager Branch Rickey made him swear that he would turn the other cheek to every bit of hate he was bound to face, and there was much of it.
When Robinson was sent to Florida for sprint training with one of the Dodgers' minor league affiliates, he couldn't stay in the same hotel as his teammates. When he played against the Philadelphia Phillies after finally making it to the majors, he was once told by the opposing manager to "go back to the cotton fields."
Rickey said he needed Robinson to be someone that had the "guts" not to retaliate. It's an unfair thing to ask of someone, given that those aiming the hate at Robinson were in the wrong, but somebody had to do it.
Why? There was no Jackie Robinson to pave the way for Jackie Robinson. College is hard, but, for first generation students, someone has to do it for their families. Bootstrapping is hard, but, for the success of the company, early employees have to take a financial hit early on and push through. Many things in life are hard (no-brainer) but even more so for the first of their kind.
Sooner or later, though, someone has to do it.
There Are No Limits On Self-Improvement
Robinson was an exceptional athlete, that much is known, but what some might not know is that he had a terrible season on the baseball field at UCLA, the university's official site says.
"Oddly, given his historic role in breaking the major league’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, baseball was Robinson’s worst sport at UCLA — he hit .097 in his only season..."
Rarely, if ever, is a player who records such a terrible batting average worthy of note, even in the MLB. Those stats came during his college days, against amateur players at a much lower level. Yet, Robinson ended up becoming the best player in the world on his day, with performances that captivated a nation. It's a testament to what the human mind, especially a determined one, can achieve. Underdeveloped today, phenomenal tomorrow.
Jackie Robinson is proof that there are no limit to how much one can improve.
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