Jackie Robinson Day is the annual salute to the man who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball on April 15, 1947. Of course that day and event has significance not only for the game of baseball but also for its place in history.
Major League Baseball retired Robinson's No. 42 on April 15, 1997, to mark the 50th anniversary of his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Beginning in 2009, every Major League player has worn No. 42 on April 15 as a tribute to the legacy of Jackie Robinson.
The Royals feel a special connection to Robinson because he played in Kansas City before being signed by Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945. He played shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs for much of the 1945 season and at his usual high level -- enough to land him on the West All-Star team in the annual East-West All-Star Game.
Rickey was at the forefront of some progressive baseball executives who had been on the lookout for a player to integrate the Major Leagues and the young Jack Roosevelt Robinson perfectly fit the bill. The college educated, military veteran had both the skill to compete and the character to withstand the scrutiny such a racial trailblazer would encounter.
The Dodgers first secretly reached out to Robinson while he was playing for the Monarchs in late August 1945. After meeting Robinson on Aug. 28, Rickey was convinced he might finally have the right person to make such a bold move for that time. Robinson was eventually signed to the Dodgers top farm club -- the Montreal Royals -- for the 1946 season.
So, if you said that Robinson played for the Royals you would indeed be correct. When he first donned his Montreal uniform on April 18, 1946, at Jersey City's Roosevelt Stadium, Robinson was breaking the color barrier in the International League in a Royals jersey. But did Robinson ever play for the Kansas City Royals?
Most people would quickly say it wasn't possible for Robinson to have played for the Kansas City Royals. Robinson's Hall of Fame playing career ended after the 1956 season and the Royals did not begin play in Kansas City until 1969. It was simply not possible. Which is true, but also incorrect.
The California Winter League was one of the first integrated leagues featuring teams from both the Major Leagues and Negro Leagues. Though the league was integrated, the teams were not, and one of the clubs made of Negro League players was managed by Chet Brewer, a former Kansas City Monarch and native of Leavenworth, Kan. He could not call his team the Monarchs so instead went with the name Kansas City Royals.
And that is where Robinson comes into the picture. After he left the Monarchs in 1945, and before he reported to the Montreal Royals in 1946, he went to Southern California and played for Brewer's Kansas City Royals. Consider that true story an easy way to win at sports trivia. Ask someone if Jackie Robinson ever played for the Kansas City Royals. Most will say no -- easy win.
All of that tells you why Jackie Robinson Day is extra special in Kansas City. Only Brooklyn has a stronger tie to Jackie Robinson than Kansas City. The retired numbers in the Royals Hall of Fame -- 5, 10, 20 and 42 -- are all 'Kansas City Royals.'
Thanks Jackie. Happy Jackie Robinson Day everyone!
Curt Nelson is the Director of the Royals Hall of Fame and has worked for the Royals since the 1999 season.