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Today’s top Major League Baseball players regularly earn millions of dollars every season, and it would be highly unusual for a nationally-known baseball star to have a “regular” job. But things were different back in the 1950s, and even iconic players such as Jackie Robinson had second jobs during the offseason to support their families.
As the first African American in the modern MLB, Robinson was particularly well known. The Brooklyn Dodgers’ second baseman had been awarded the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award in 1947 and the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1949. During his career, he played in six World Series and was an All-Star every year from 1949 to 1954.
Yet at the same time as he was enjoying success on the field and promoting the use of nonviolence in the civil rights movement, Robinson was also working a second job selling televisions at the Sunset Appliance Store in Queens. According to a fascinating New Yorker article from January 1950, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening, Robinson sold TVs on a salary-and-commission basis.
Robinson had already become a household name by the time he was working at the appliance shop, and business boomed, with fans and even some celebrities flocking to the store to see Robinson in action—and often purchasing a TV set in the process. Boxing legends Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis were among those to purchase a television from the Dodgers second baseman.
Off to work in the offseason :
- Robinson was far from the only well-known MLB player to have a second job. Despite playing 18 seasons in the MLB, most notably with the Pittsburgh Pirates, third baseman Richie Hebner also worked as a gravedigger during the offseason. He had started this job as a high school sophomore, as his father managed several cemeteries. Even after his playing career ended in 1985 and he shifted to coaching minor league teams, Hebner continued digging graves and later drove a hearse.
- Boston Red Sox star Joe Morgan spent winters driving a snowplow on the Massachusetts Turnpike, while New York Yankees MVPs Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto sold suits in Newark, New Jersey, and St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lou Brock worked as a florist.
- Jackie Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. Though he died in 1972, aged just 53, he earned many posthumous honors, including the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Every MLB team has retired Robinson's jersey number (42) out of respect for his bravery in breaking baseball's color barrier.