116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
This year marked the 75th anniversary of when Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the major leagues since the 1880s.
Lots of kids know the story of Jackie Robinson. He overcame terrible prejudices — pitchers threw baseballs at his head, runners stepped on his feet, people wrote him threatening letters — to show that Black players are just as good, and often better, than White players.
But it wasn't just Robinson. There were others who were the first Black players on their Major League Baseball teams too.
The United States was a deeply segregated country in the 1940s. African Americans were separated from White people by laws and customs. Black people could not attend White-only schools or live in certain neighborhoods or go to many restaurants.
Sports were segregated too. Black players played in separate baseball leagues called the Negro Leagues. Many White people said that Black players were not good enough to make it in the major leagues.
In 1946, the Sporting News baseball publication wrote that there was "not a single Negro player with major league capabilities." That wasn't true.
When the Cleveland Indians selected Larry Doby to be the first Black player in the American League, he faced many of the same challenges as Robinson. Doby said later that "it was 11 weeks between the time Jackie Robinson and I came into the majors. I can't see how things were any different for me than they were for him."
Unlike Robinson, who was a sensation in his first season, Doby started slowly, hitting only .156 in 1947. But Doby improved and became a nine-time All-Star as the Indians' centerfielder.
In 1950, Sam Jethroe, who had played seven seasons for the Cleveland Buckeyes in the Negro Leagues, joined the Boston (now Atlanta) Braves and was the National League Rookie of the Year at age 33.
A year later, Minnie Minoso became the first Black player to play for the Chicago White Sox. Minoso, who was born in Cuba, played in 13 All-Star games and batted .299 for his long career.
From 1949 to 1959, 9 of the 11 players named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the National League were players who had played in the Negro Leagues. These MVP-caliber players included Hall-of-Famers such as Robinson, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron and Ernie Banks.
Still, many teams were slow to accept Black players. Three of the 16 MLB teams at the time - the Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox - waited more than 10 years after Robinson's debut in 1947 to have Black players on their rosters.
It is important to remember and honor Jackie Robinson. But it is also important to remember the other talented and courageous players who helped change sports - and America for the better.
Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 27 sports books for kids. His latest book is "Hardcourt: Stories From 75 Years of the National Basketball Association."