January 31 has produced three of the most historically and dominant ballplayers in MLB history.
Jackie Robinson, the first African-american to play in the majors, was born on this day in 1919 on a cotton field plantation in Georgia. The youngest of five children, Robinson was raised in relative poverty by a single mother after his dad abandoned them at six years old.
Life wasn’t easy, but sports, business and opportunity thrust him into the center of a battle against racism and the realigning of American values. He eventually rose to prominence for his bravery, impeccable character, intelligence and sterling athletic performance and broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, changing the country forever and opening the floodgates for a bevy of black talent that has left indelible and impactful marks on the history of baseball over the past 60 years.
Robinson was college educated and a rare four-sport monster at UCLA, killing Track & Field, the diamond, the hardwood and the gridiron. He was a military guy and he had the temperament to endure the most horrible indignities in his first few years as MLB’s first African-American player.
His brother Mack set the example for Robinson to be able to break through bigoted barriers. Mack Robinson finished second to Jesse Owens in the 200 meter-dash in the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
Against racist opposition from players, teammates, white fans and media, Robinson was named Rookie of the Year that year, National League MVP in 1949 and a World Series champ in 1955 leading the Brooklyn Dodgers to that elusive championship.
In his post career, he was a Civil Rights activist, businessman and was honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2005.
Ernie Banks was born on this day in 1931 and passed away in January of 2015, but his impact on the city of Chicago and his legacy as one of baseball’s all-time dopest shortstops lives on.
TSL, 2015: “The thought of becoming one of segregated MLB’s mythical ambassadors was a pipe dream for a black teenager growing up in the heart of The Lone Star State during the segregated '40s; especially one with ten younger siblings to help keep in order.
That’s the story of baseball icon Ernie Banks. Along with Triple O.G. Honus Wagner and Iron Man II Cal Ripken Jr., Banks was one of three shortstops named to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team in 1999.
Banks’ nickname of “Mr. Cub” will forever resonate with National League baseball fans and the diehard Cubs faithful who finally won a World Series in 2016 after 108 years of futility. Banks spent his entire 19-year career with the Cubs beginning in 1953 at the age of 22, when he was signed from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues.
To the black community—especially the baby boomer generation— the memory of Banks is as classic as Kool Aid, hopscotch and Doo Wop. Just two years before his death, President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Banks in the East Room at the White House on November 20, 2013.”
Nolan Ryan was born in Refugio, Texas on this day in 1947. The “Ryan Express” blew away an unbreakable MLB-record of 5,714 strike-out victims, almost 1,000 more K’s than No. 2 on the list, 2015 Cooperstown inductee Randy Johnson. He also has an MLB -record seven career no-hitters. That's three more than Sandy Koufax had.
There’s never been a pitcher as adept at making batters miss as the eight-time All-star and 11-time K-King. Ryan is a living legend who seemed to play forever as his career spanned four decades.
He’s the only pitcher who maintained his fireball status into his late 30’s and even early 40's (without the use of PEDS). The Texas Tornado (I’m not talking about wrestler Kerry Von Erich) was pushing 50 and still blowing the gun at about a buck. At the age of 44, he struck out 203 victims in 173 innings pitched for the Texas Rangers in 1991. He struck out 301 dudes in a season at age 42 !