On April 15, 1947, exactly 77 years ago, a Georgia native named Jack Roosevelt Robinson became the first black man to play a Major League Baseball game since 1889. It's a date that looms as one of the most significant moments in MLB history and is now deservedly marked by ceremony each and every year, with all the players on big league fields sporting a blue #42 on the backs of their jerseys for Jackie Robinson Day.

Robinson isn't just one of the most important figures in baseball history but in American history as a whole. He was a legend on the field, a fierce champion for justice in his community, and one of the most influential humans this country has ever seen. Therefore it's fitting, on this day of remembrance for an all-time great, to look back at the moments that defined Robinson's legacy both as a baseball player and a remarkable American citizen.

Breaking the color barrier

Fans take photos at the Jackie Robinson statue as they attend the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball at Dodger Stadium.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Robinson's struggle to make it to Major League Baseball was of course minimal compared to the trials of the thousands of big-league-worthy African-American ballplayers that came before him, but he still was met with setbacks along the way. He was met with racial epithets by Boston Red Sox management at a tryout in 1945, segregated from his teammates at minor league hotels, and faced threats of a strike from the St. Louis Cardinals when he made his debut against them.

So taking the field on April 15 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn was a remarkable achievement in and of itself, and is signified by the now-famous exchange between Robinson and Dodgers president Branch Rickey at the time of its signing. Robinson asked if Rickey was looking for “a Negro who [was] afraid to fight back” and Rickey responded that he wanted someone with “guts enough to not fight back.” That turn-the-other-cheek approach, exhibited by Robinson throughout that season and his entire career, was crucial in the acceptance of other black players across the league in the years that followed.

First-ever Rookie of the Year

It's unthinkable to envision what Robinson was dealing with throughout that 1947 season. Epithets, death threats, hostility, and beanballs from the opposing team, basically all the ugliness humanity could possibly conjure. As disgraceful as it was that black players were barred from the league for so long, it was doubly disgraceful how the first was treated once he entered the league.

So to rise above all that and instantly become one of the best players on a pennant-winning ballclub was truly a remarkable achievement for Robinson. He batted .297, stole an NL-best 29 bases, and not only took home the very first Rookie of the Year award, but also finished fifth in MVP voting.

Jackie Robinson won the 1949 NL MVP Award

1949 was Robinson's peak as a baseball player. He played each and every one of Brooklyn's 156 games at second base, led the National League with a .342 batting average, led all of baseball in stolen bases (37), and wins above replacement (9.3, though the stat didn't actually exist yet) and took home Most Valuable Player honors in the senior circuit.

And now is a good time to highlight just how prolific Robinson's entire career was, because it's easy to remember him only as a trailblazer and forget that he was legitimately a Hall of Famer, on track to be one of the best players of all time. He slashed .313/.410/.477, excellent at both hitting and walking his way on base.

He played plus defense at second base for the first half of his career, then moved all around the diamond for the Dodgers later on–reminiscent of Mookie Betts. Had he played more than 10 seasons in MLB, he would have made a legitimate run at 100 career WAR, a plateau only topped by 32 players in professional baseball history. If you wanted to argue Jackie Robinson was the greatest second baseman of all time, no one could rightfully dismiss you.

Stealing home in the World Series

In Robinson's career, the Dodgers faced off against the New York Yankees six times in the World Series–and lost all but one of them. But true to form, Robinson had a signature moment in that lone Fall Classic win, perhaps the most widespread video highlight of his storybook career.

In the eighth inning of Game 1, Robinson took off from third base and swiped home plate with no break in Whitey Ford's delivery. The Dodgers lost the game, but it made the game much closer in the later innings and no doubt helped turn the momentum of the series. And in all, Robinson stole home 19 times in his big league career, each time a straight steal without any kind of disruption from other runners on base.

Activism post-career lead to Jackie Robinson Day 

When Robinson called it a career after the 1956 season, partially due to the fatigue his diabetic condition had taken on his body, he had every right to fade into the anonymity of retirement. But instead, he remained an active participant in civil society. He protested and eventually reversed the segregation of the airport in Greeneville, South Carolina, became the first black analyst on an MLB broadcast, and served as the vice president of Chock Full o'Nuts, the first black VP of a major American corporation.

In October of 1972, just nine days before his death, Robinson threw out the first pitch before Game 2 of the World Series in Cincinnati. He accepted a plaque honoring the 25th anniversary of his major league debut, but said to the crowd, “I'm going to be tremendously more pleased and more proud when I look at that third base coaching line one day and see a black face managing in baseball.”

It took another two years for Frank Robinson to officially become the first black man to manage an MLB team, but Jackie, as always, helped lead the charge. His legacy lives on not just today, but every day, as a force working against the evils of America's past to swing the pendulum of baseball and society as a whole towards an equitable future.