1947 | BROOKLYN, NEW YORK – Jackie Robinson became the first African American major league baseball player of the modern era on this date in 1947. He went hitless, but handled 11 chances at first base to help the Brooklyn Dodgers (today’s Los Angeles Dodgers) beat the Boston Braves (today’s Atlanta Braves) 5-3.
As the description “first African America of the modern era,” implies, Jackie Robinson was not first Black major leaguer. There were a few others, but you had to go back to the late 1800s to find them. An unwritten “gentleman’s agreement” created a color barrier in major league baseball from roughly the late 1880s until 1947.
Many point the finger at Chicago White Stockings (the modern day Cubs) star Cap Anson for leading the charge to exclude Blacks. The story is, Anson refused to take the field in an 1883 exhibition game against the Toledo Blue Stockings because they had an African American catcher. Even if true, Anson was certainly not alone in his bigotry. By the end of the decade the “gentleman’s agreement” was in force barring teams from signing Black players. The color barrier lasted until the Dodgers’ Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson in 1947.
Ironically, the Black player Cap Anson reportedly threatened a boycott over was probably the smartest man on the field. Moses Fleetwood Walker studied Greek, French, German, Latin and math at Oberlin College in Ohio before going to law school at the University of Michigan.
- Jackie’s brother Mack Robinson was also an exceptional athlete. He came in second behind Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany.
Spalding’s World Tour, Page 68, by Mark Lamster, 2006