In Major League Baseball, April 15th is Jackie Robinson Day, honoring the player who broke the barrier against African-American players participating in MLB. His first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers was on April 15, 1947.
In many ways Jackie Robinson was the most compelling player in major league baseball history. He was selected by Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey to break the MLB color barrier in 1947 (no African-American had been employed by a major league team since at least 1901, the beginning of the “modern era” of major league ball) after a sterling athletic record at UCLA, where he had lettered in track, football, baseball and basketball. Rickey needed a can’t-miss prospect, as well as a person who would be able to endure the inevitable racial nonsense that would arise in a sport where many players were from the deep South.
Robinson was a five-tool player who hit for average, and power (averaging 16 home runs per year), possessed above average speed, and excellently threw and fielded his position (second base for his early years). Advancing age and diabetes slowed him down in 1956 and 1957; the Dodgers traded him to the Giants, who like the Dodgers were moving to California, but Robinson chose to retire. Jackie Robinson passed away in 1972, shortly after addressing a World Series crowd in Cincinnati. He is interred in Cypress Hills Cemetery, through which passes the parkway later named for him. In 1997 his uniform number, 42, was retired by every major league team, except for players already wearing it; the last one, legendary Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera, retired in 2013.
No borough-wide memorial had been named for him until 1997, when upon the 50th anniversary of his ascension to the Dodgers, New York State designated the entire route of the Interboro Parkway in his name. The above photo shows the Jackie Robinson Parkway at Jamaica Avenue.
The Interborough Parkway, opened in 1935 and seen in this 1940 postcard view, was Robert Moses’ second grand parkway project in the five boroughs (the first was Grand Central Parkway). It passes mostly through the Cemetery Belt separating Brooklyn and Queens, and while the parkway necessitated some disinterments and reburials, Evergreens Cemetery historian Dario Daddario told me it passed through a relatively un”populated” area of Evergreens and hence, there were few upheavals necessary. I have a cache of photos showing some intricate stone bridges used by the then-narrow parkway within the cemetery grounds, as well as Cypress Hills Cemetery, but Daddario tells me the last of them were removed a few years ago.
By 1987, the Interboro, built for moderate traffic, had proven inadequate for the fast and furious traffic of the modern age, and modern lighting and “Jersey” concrete barriers were installed. Its occasional sharp curves still make the Jackie a little hair raising at times.