42 Facts About Jackie Robinson

Keystone, Getty Images
Keystone, Getty Images

On January 31, 1919, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia. Twenty-eight years later, he broke the baseball color line and became the first African American to play on a major sports team. Here are 42 facts to celebrate the legendary athlete.

1. Jackie Robinson was born in Georgia but raised in California.

Jack "Jackie" Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. Shortly after his birth, his family moved and settled in Pasadena, California.

2. He was named after Teddy Roosevelt.

Oval shaped portrait of a American baseball player Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) as a young boy sitting on a chair, circa 1925
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

President Theodore Roosevelt, who died 25 days before Robinson was born, was the inspiration for his middle name.

3. He was the youngest of five children.

Jackie was the youngest of five children—Edgar, Frank, Matthew “Mack,” and Willa Mae—and grew up in relative poverty in a well-off community in Pasadena.

4. In high school, he played on a team with other future Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bob Lemon.

Robinson attended John Muir High School, where he was placed on the Pomona Annual Baseball Tournament All-Star Team with fellow future Baseball Hall of Famers Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox and Bob Lemon of the Cleveland Indians.

5. He was an accomplished tennis player, too.

He was also an accomplished tennis player, winning the junior boys singles championship in the Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament.

6. His brother was a Silver medal-winning Olympic athlete.

The Robinson family
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Jackie’s brother Mack was an adept athlete and a splendid sprinter. He won a Silver Medal in the 200 meters behind Jesse Owens during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.

7. He served in the Army during World War II.

In 1942, Jackie Robinson was drafted into the Army. He was assigned to a segregated Army Cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kansas.

8. He was stationed with boxing champion Joe Louis during World War II.

While in the Army, Robinson became friends with boxing champion Joe Louis when the heavyweight, who was stationed at Fort Riley at the time, used his celebrity to protest the delayed entry of black soldiers in an Office Candidate School (OCS). As a result, Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1943.

9. He never saw combat during the war because he was arrested and court-martialed for refusing to move to the back of an unsegregated bus.

After an incident where he refused to sit in the back of an unsegregated bus, military police arrested Robinson at the request of a duty officer, who later requested Robinson be court-martialed. At the time of the proceedings, Robinson was prohibited from being deployed overseas to the World War II battlefronts. He never saw combat during the war.

10. He was eventually given an honorable discharge.

American baseball player Jackie Robinson (1919 - 1972) (Back row, 4th from right), wearing a military uniform, stands with members of his family outside of a house, possibly in Georgia, c. 1942
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Robinson was acquitted and then assigned to Camp Breckinridge in Kentucky, where he worked as an Army athletics coach until he was given an honorable discharge in 1944. During his time at the camp, Robinson was encouraged to tryout for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro National League.

11. He played in the 1945 Negro League All-Star Game.

In 1945, Robinson signed a contract to play for the Kansas City Monarchs. He was paid $400 a month (about $5100 today) to play shortstop and eventually was placed in the Negro League All-Star Game that year.

12. He married his college sweetheart.

Robinson married Rachel Islum—whom he had met in 1941 during his senior year at UCLA—in 1946. They had their first son, Jackie Robinson Jr., that November. The Robinsons had two more children: a daughter, Sharon, and another son, David.

13. He played in the Montreal Royals' minor league.

Robinson played Minor League Baseball for the Montreal Royals in 1946, until he was called up to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Major Leagues in 1947.

14. He made his MLB debut at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field.

American baseball player Jackie Robinson (1919 - 1972) grounds a ball at first place while warming up for an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, Ebbets Field, NYC, 1950s
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He made his Major League Baseball debut on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. He became the first African-American baseball player in Major League history.

15. He was 1947's Rookie of the Year.

He also won Rookie of the Year in 1947 with a batting average of .297, 175 hits, 12 home runs, and 48 runs batted in.

16. He was close friends with Larry Doby, who was the first African-American baseball player in the American League.

Jackie Robinson had a close friendship with Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians, who was the first African-American baseball player in the American League. The two men broke the color barrier in baseball in the same year and would talk to each other on the telephone to share their experiences with racism during the season.

17. Robinson's Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese was one of his greatest champions.

Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese defended Robinson against violent and nasty racial slurs during his rookie season. Reese famously put his arm around him and said, “You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them,” as a response to fans shouting racial slurs at Robinson.

18. Robinson "hit for the cycle" on August 29, 1948.

On August 29, 1948, in a 12-7 win against the St. Louis Cardinals, Robinson “hit for the cycle” with a home run, a triple, a double, and then a single in the same game.

19. He stole a lot of bases.

American baseball player Jackie Robinson (1919 - 1972) during his time with the Brooklyn Dodgers, 28th August 1949
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Robinson was the National League Batting and Stolen Bases Champion with a batting average of .342 and 37 stolen bases in 1949.

20. He was a regular All-Star.

He was also a six time All-Star between the years 1949 to 1954.

21. He testified in front of the United States House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities.

In 1949, Robinson was called to testify before the United States House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). He was subpoenaed because of comments made about him by prominent African-American actor Paul Robson. At first, Robinson was hesitant to testify, but then was ultimately compelled to do so because he feared not doing so would hurt his baseball career.

22. He was the National League's MVP in 1949.

The National League’s Most Valuable Player Award went to Robinson in 1949, after his first appearance in the MLB All-Star Game. Robinson later took his team to the World Series, but would lose against the New York Yankees.

23. He played himself in The Jackie Robinson Story.

Postage stamp featuring Jackie Robinson
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Jackie Robinson played himself in The Jackie Robinson Story, a biopic about his life released in 1950. Academy Award-nominated female actor Ruby Dee played Robinson’s wife Rachel “Rae” Isum Robinson.

24. In the off-season, he traveled the south on a vaudeville tour.

During the off-season, Robinson went on a vaudeville and speaking tour of the South, where he would answer pre-set questions about his life. He actually made more money on these tours than he did on his contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

25. He played in six World Series.

Robinson played in six World Series, but only won one in 1955 against the New York Yankees in a seven game series. Robinson didn’t play in 49 games that season and missed Game 7; Don Hoak played third base in Robinson’s place.

26. He quit baseball to take a job with Chock Full O' Nuts.

At 37, Robinson retired from Major League Baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 due to the visible effects of diabetes. Unbeknownst to the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson took a position with the American coffee company Chock Full O’ Nuts and agreed to quit baseball.

27. He was the first African-American vice president of a major American corporation.

Undated photo of US baseball star Jackie Robinson as he signs a then-record contract to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers
STR/AFP/Getty Images

From 1957 to 1964, Jackie Robinson served as the vice president of personnel for Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee. He was the first African-American vice president of a major American corporation.

28. He was a political independent who ended up switching party affiliations in the 1960s.

Robinson was a political independent, but had very conservative views on the Vietnam War. He also supported Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential election against John F. Kennedy, although Robinson admired Kennedy’s stance on civil rights once he was elected. He was later dismayed with Republicans for not supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and soon after became a Democrat.

29. He was the first African American inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 1962, Jackie Robinson was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility. He was the first African American inducted at the Cooperstown Hall of Fame and Museum.

30. He was a towering figure of the Civil Rights Movement.

Jackie Robinson with his son at the Civil Rights March on Washington DC in 1963
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Jackie Robinson was always seen as a large figure in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said Robinson was “a legend and symbol in his own time” who “challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration.”

31. He co-founded Harlem's Freedom National Bank.

In 1964, Robinson co-founded the Freedom National Bank—a black owned and operated bank in Harlem, New York—with businessman Dunbar McLaurin. Robinson was the commercial bank’s first Chairman of the Board. His wife later served as Chairman until 1990 when the bank closed.

32. He was television's first African-American sports analyst.

Robinson was also the first African-American TV sports analyst. He broadcasted for ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week telecasts in 1965. Robinson later worked as a part-time commentator for the Montreal Expos in 1972.

33. The Dodgers retired his uniform number in 1972.

Portrait of members of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team pose in the dugout, 1954
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On June 4, 1972, the Dodgers retired Jackie Robinson’s uniform number 42, as well as Sandy Koufax’s number 32 and Roy Campanella’s number 39.

34. He passed away at the age of 53.

Robinson died of a heart attack on October 24, 1972 in Stamford, Connecticut, at age 53.

35. Robinson's widow, Rachel, started the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 1973.

In 1973, Robinson’s widow, Rachel, started the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a non-profit organization that gives college scholarships to minorities. The Foundation also preserves the legacy of Jackie Robinson as a baseball player and a civil rights pioneer.

36. Robinson's Brooklyn home was declared a landmark in 1976.

The house in Brooklyn, New York, where Jackie Robinson lived while he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1976.

37. There's an asteroid named after him.

On March 1, 1981, American astronomer Schelte John “Bobby” Bus discovered an asteroid at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. Bus named the asteroid “4319 Jackierobinson,” after his favorite baseball player.

38. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded Jackie Robinson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest award given to a civilian for their contributions to world peace, cultural, or other significant public or private endeavors—on March 26, 1984.

39. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

More than 20 years after he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President George W. Bush also posthumously awarded Jackie Robinson with the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest honor the legislative branch can bestow on a civilian and must be co-sponsored by two-thirds of members in the House and the Senate—for his contributions to American history. He became the second baseball player to receive this accolade after Pittsburgh Pirates Right-Fielder Roberto Clemente in 1973.

40. Robinson's number, 42, was retired throughout Major League Baseball.

Getty Images

You won't see any baseball players wearing the number 42: In 1997, Robinson’s number was retired throughout Major League Baseball. This was the first and only time a jersey number had been retired throughout an entire professional sports league.

41. He's a member of the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

In 1999, Robinson was added to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team along with Cal Ripken Jr., Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, and Ty Cobb. Fans chose the final selections from a list compiled of the 100 greatest Major League Baseball players from the past century.

42. April 15th is now Jackie Robinson Day.

April 15, 2004, became Jackie Robinson Day and all uniformed players in Major League Baseball were required to wear number 42 on their jerseys to honor Robinson’s memory and legacy to the sport.

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2013.

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
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As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.