Robinson's impact felt league-wide
Several players weigh in on the difference No. 42 made to them
Putting into words what Jackie Robinson means has been a welcome challenge for 61 years and counting now, for people in and beyond baseball. It's an evolutionary conversation that has gone from curiosity to admiration to outright celebration.For some, there's really only one word that suffices anymore to describe what Robinson means. "To me, he means everything," Indians ace and reigning American League Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia said. "I wouldn't get a chance to play for this game if it wasn't for him. He means so much to so many people, but he means everything to me because, without him, I wouldn't get this opportunity. "I don't know how he could put up with the stuff he put up with -- racial slurs, even from coaches and some of his teammates. That had to be tough to deal with. He definitely handled it with class. He was obviously talented enough, but you have to be a strong-minded person to put up with some of that garbage he had to put up with. The stuff we get in Chicago is nothing compared to what he had to go through." Leading up to Jackie Robinson Day, MLB.com's reporters asked players and coaches to answer the query: What does Jackie Robinson mean to me?
The sampling of responses below speak to many of Robinson's outstanding qualities, some of which made him the best person to break baseball's -- and society's -- color barrier on April 15, 1947, some of which have become obvious over time as Robinson's legacy grows.Courage:
"Jackie Robinson is the No. 1 reason why I'm playing this game. I played for Frank Robinson and met Willie Mays and heard all the stories of what he went through with segregation not only in baseball, but the whole world. For him to go through what he did, he was at another level."
-- Rangers outfielder Marlon Byrd "He's the one who had to go through the most change, and with change comes a lot of conflict. I can't even fathom what he had to go through. Yet he was strong enough to endure all that and compete and play well. So he's definitely an icon and should be honored for what he's done."
-- Giants outfielder Rajai Davis "The first thing that comes to mind when I think about him is the magnitude of what he did. I can't imagine what he went through, and then he had to give it his all on the field. He had to work harder than anyone else."
-- Dodgers first baseman James Loney "The things he went through and how he handled it, which was with dignity and grace, it's an example for all the people who have to go through tough times and not let it get the best of them. He's an inspiration to me on the baseball field but also in other things in life."
-- Astros reliever Wesley Wright Leadership:
"So many of us got to play baseball because of Jackie Robinson. The things he had to put up with. It was torture for him, I know it had to be. But, also to show America that black people are capable and smart enough to compete in this sport."
-- Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins "It isn't only what he meant to the opportunity for blacks, but for minorities period. The more people wear [No. 42], the more we never forget."
-- A's outfielder Emil Brown "Me being Dominican, Jackie Robinson gave me a chance to play. ... It was tough for the Latin guys after Jackie Robinson, guys like Roberto Clemente. After Jackie Robinson, they got a chance. Imagine how hard it was for Jackie Robinson to be the first guy to be able to play. I thank Jackie Robinson because I'm here."
-- Rockies center fielder Willy Taveras "If it wasn't for him I might not be in this locker room. He's the one who paved the way for African Americans to get into baseball, and it's just an honor even to wear that number."
Pirates outfielder Nyjer Morgan "I'm just glad to put on that No. 42. and just honor him. It means a lot to me. I don't know if it's because I'm from the same place [Cairo, Ga.]. If it weren't for Jackie, a lot of things wouldn't be possible for me."
-- Nationals outfielder Willie Harris "We definitely needed a person like him with his mental capability to be able to withstand some of the things he withstood and just his flat-out ability to play the game. To be able to make that transition so smooth for us and to give everybody an opportunity to play this game a lot sooner than it probably would have happened was big."
-- Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp "The way I look at it, he gave me the opportunity to play today because of what he did. He opened a lot of doors. So you just have to give the person respect who opened up a lot of doors. I've learned a lot more about him since I've been in the Major Leagues, because I wanted to learn more about him. He did a lot of things for me and other players. What he did wasn't easy, and I know that."
-- Rays outfielder Carl Crawford "I think what he did for us is he allowed us to have the opportunity to dream big and not think small all the time. That's what he reminds me of -- every time I'm down on myself, you get a chance to think back on the things he went through and what he accomplished so every black athlete who is playing any sport today could feel good about themselves."
-- Cubs outfielder Daryle Ward Professionalism:
"Growing up a Giants fan, of course, I rooted against the Dodgers, so I rooted against Jackie Robinson. But one thing I began to notice was that when he got caught in a rundown, he never got tagged out. He always seemed to find a way out of it."
-- Dodgers manager Joe Torre "My reflection of Jackie Robinson was the way he played the game and how hard he played. He had the admiration of his teammates and conducted himself professionally, on and off the field."
-- Braves outfielder Mark Kotsay "My grandfather watched him in the Negro Leagues and said he wasn't the best player on the field, but he was the best player to deal with what he had to deal with. The thing that impresses me the most about what Jackie did was keeping his composure. It wasn't just on the field -- it was off the field, too. He had players going after him at second base and guys yelling racial slurs. All the while, he was separated from his teammates [on the road]. That must have been the hardest thing."
-- Yankees reliever LaTroy Hawkins Character:
"I got to meet his family -- Rachel Robinson and some others. That was great. For his daughter, just to hear stories about how courageous a dad he was and what he had to go through. It was tough. I wish I could've met him. He did so much for African Americans in this game and Latinos. Jackie was a strong man and a proud man -- what courage and character he had."
-- Blue Jays DH Frank Thomas "What [Robinson] did, what he had to go through, I couldn't have done it. [People] know my temper. I'm glad he was able to do it for me so I didn't have to deal with that. The baseball things he did were cool, but the mental part, that's what impresses me. People should give him more credit for that."
-- Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder "He was a window that was opened and it stays open. He was a man who symbolized a lot of things. He's the Roberto Clemente of America for us, in a different way. For Roberto to be there, Jackie had to be there. He was a guy who withstood adversity. He's the only guy that I know who had it on paper that he would not take any repercussions. Mahatma Gandhi did it, but he didn't put it in writing. Martin Luther King did it, but he didn't put it in writing. This guy actually wrote it down. That's not an easy thing to do."
-- Mariners pitcher Miguel Batista "It's important that people see how important it was for Jackie Robinson to take the first major step for blacks and other races in the game of baseball. It's an incentive to have a person like that who's a role model, and realize that as you go on in life, it may not always be peaches and cream, but if you put your best foot forward, good things can happen, and that's what Jackie Robinson has done for many people in the game."
-- Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode "If he were alive today, I'd just want to talk to him see how he could mentally focus day in and day out. Not just playing the game well, but the pressure with people giving him a hard time because of his race. The game is already hard enough sometimes, but to have the added pressure on top of that, I don't know how a person could focus and concentrate and do the great job that he did -- not just on the field, but also paving the way for other players to play after him."
-- Reds center fielder Corey Patterson "I look at what he did with his life, using baseball as a platform to accomplish what he wanted socially, and it was bigger than baseball -- much bigger. He represented equality, not just for black people, but for Latin people and others from across the waters. It was the time of civil rights in this country, and he stood tall and carried a heavy weight for all people. ... As I got older and was able to explore it, reading stuff, I began to realize what he tried to do, his role in the whole Civil Rights Movement -- and he became a much bigger figure in my mind. I saw all that, what Jackie meant to society, and I started putting the puzzle together."
-- Angels outfielder Garret Anderson
Numerous MLB.com reporters contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.