The History of the Jackie Robinson Award, Honoring the NL Rookie of the Year

Fans know iconic baseball player Jackie Robinson for his playing skills as well as his historic role in breaking the color barrier. To honor him decades later, the MLB renamed the Rookie of the Year Award after him. Let’s look at the man and the award.

Jackie Robinson’s life before the Dodgers

Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, according to He grew up in Pasadena, California, where he ran track and played football, basketball, and baseball. He went to UCLA but didn’t graduate due to financial issues. After college, Robinson played semi-pro football in Honolulu, Hawaii.

During World War II, from 1942 to 1944, Robinson served in the Army but didn’t engage in combat. He was court-martialed in 1944 for refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus at Fort Hood, Texas. The incident received publicity, and he was ultimately acquitted and given an honorable discharge from the military.

After the Army, Robinson first played in the Negro baseball leagues before joining the Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team, in 1946.

Robinson’s MLB career

In 1947, Robinson became the first African American person to play Major League Baseball in the 20th century. His first major league game took place with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. During Robinson’s 10 years in the MLB, he endured racist treatment, insults, and death threats. Subsequently, he and his wife got involved in the Civil Rights movement.

In addition to his groundbreaking role in MLB integration, Robinson also had an outstanding playing career. After an incredibly difficult first season, he won the first national Rookie of the Year Award. He also came in fifth that year for the MVP Award. That first year, Robinson had a batting average of .297 and 12 home runs. The Dodgers also won the National League pennant.

Robinson won the National League MVP Award in 1949 and was in the top 10 for MVP voting four other seasons. He was such a great hitter that he actually walked more than he struck out. Robinson ended his career with a .311 batting average.

He’s also known for stealing home base 19 times. With his help, the Dodgers won the World Series in 1955. Jackie Robinson Day is now celebrated on April 15 in Major League Baseball. No. 42 has been retired across all MLB teams.

The Jackie Robinson Award for MLB Rookie of the Year

Each year, the MLB Rookie of the Year Award goes to the two best rookies, one from the National League and one from the American League. The Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America first started awarding Rookie of the Year from 1940-46. Now, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America selects both rookies.

Robinson won the first national award in 1947. Only one award was given for all of Major League Baseball that year and in 1948.

While it was first officially named the J. Louis Comiskey Memorial Award, the MLB renamed the Rookie of the Year Award to the Jackie Robinson Award in 1987. The change honored the anniversary of Robinson’s integration into the MLB 40 years earlier. However, the award is rarely called by its official name.

Who has received the Rookie of the Year award?

Mike Trout (C) of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is presented with the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award in 2013
Mike Trout (C) is presented with the 2013 Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award in 2013 | Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Through 2019, 128 players have received the Rookie of the Year Award. Of those, 12.5% go on to enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame — five from the American League and 11 from the National League.

Players from the Brooklyn Dodgers and Los Angeles Dodgers have the most Rookie of the Year Awards of any team, with 18 each. The New York Yankees have the most Rookie of the Year Awards for the American League, with nine.

Since its renaming, Jackie Robinson Award winners have included Mark McGwire, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Mike Trout. While the Rookie of the Year Award isn’t always called by its official name, the Jackie Robinson Award, it’s important to recognize his legacy.

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