COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Jackie Robinson’s legacy will endure forever for what he was able to accomplish on and off the field.
But 54 years ago this week, Robinson decided that his career on the diamond was over.
Breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball just ten years prior, Robinson was able use his pure athleticism and skill from his days as a four-sport star at UCLA and electrifying player in the Negro leagues to make an immediate impact with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
He became one of baseball’s most dynamic players with his ability to steal the show on the basepaths. Stealing home an incredible 19 times throughout his career, Robinson was always a threat to the opposing team any time he reached base.
He also excelled at the plate, hitting for a lifetime mark of .311 leading the Dodgers to six pennants in 10 seasons. Robinson collected National League Most Valuable Player honors in 1949 after hitting .342 with 124 RBI and 37 steals.
But as he aged, he became a part-timer with the Dodgers. And in a deal that was initially agreed upon on Dec. 13, 1956, the Dodgers sent Robinson to the New York Giants for $30,000 and pitcher Dick Littlefield.
Robinson was taken aback by the news of the trade.
“Naturally, I am disappointed to leave Brooklyn,” Robinson said. “I’ve received wonderful treatment from the fans and made lasting friendships.”
Robinson, who would turn 38 in late January of 1957, confirmed that he needed to take a couple of days to think it over. It was believed by Giants management and the rest of the media that Jackie would join the team as he did not previously mention that he was contemplating retirement.
On Jan. 5, 1957, Robinson ultimately decided that it was time for him to hang up his cleats and leave the game of baseball.
In a letter to Giants’ President, Horace Stoneham, Robinson said “I assure you that my retirement has nothing to do with my trade to your organization. From all I have heard from people who have worked with you, it would have been a pleasure to have been in your organization.”
That letter is now part of the Hall of Fame’s Library collection of more than three million documents.
He spent the next 15 years working for social causes before succumbing to a heart attack on Oct. 24, 1972. His uniform number “42” was retired throughout Major League Baseball on April 15, 1997.
Matt Kramer was the 2010 public relations fall intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum