Across nation, baseball celebrates Jackie's legacy
Robinson's No. 42 worn by players on anniversary of breaking color barrier
NEW YORK -- The 67th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers was greeted with tributes, ceremonies, remembrances and hundreds of uniform No. 42s worn on Major League Baseball fields across America on Tuesday night.
The great Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, now a Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball development, even helped flip the switch for the beams lighting up New York's famous Empire State Building to a vintage shade of Dodger blue.
Under Commissioner Bud Selig's direction in 1997, Robinson's No. 42 was retired across all of Major League Baseball in an unprecedented tribute. All uniformed personnel wore that number for the 11 Major League games played throughout the nation on Tuesday.
Since that 50th anniversary celebration of Robinson's breaking of the color barrier, MLB has honored Robinson for his courage and accomplishments each and every year on this day.
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"Before the late '90s, none of this existed," Selig said, after giving the keynote speech at Major League Baseball's Diversity Business Summit at the Manhattan Center. "It's hard to believe we really didn't honor Jackie Robinson, given the meaningfulness of what he did. I don't even want to take credit for it. It was the right thing to do."
But Tuesday's festivities got off to a wet start with games postponed at Yankee Stadium, Comerica Park, Camden Yards and Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night.
"One thing I can't do is control the weather, you all know that," Selig quipped.
The main event in the Bronx between the Cubs and the Yankees is now scheduled to be made up on Wednesday as part of a day-night doubleheader at the Stadium, with the teams planning to wear the famous numerals in the nightcap.
The games between the Tigers and Indians in Detroit, the Orioles and Rays in Baltimore, and the Phillies and Braves in Philadelphia were not immediately rescheduled, but the teams are slated to play each other again on Wednesday.
The Yankees announced on Sunday that the club will unveil a plaque for late South African president Nelson Mandela in Monument Park as part of the pregame festivities, in a ceremony that will be streamed live on MLB.com and Yankees.com prior to Wednesday night's game at 7:05 p.m. ET.
Mandela, the man who helped end the practice of apartheid in his country and died last year, gave a speech at the old Yankee Stadium in 1990.
"I give the Yankees all the credit in the world," Selig said. "Nelson Mandela was here and I know how [late Yankees principal owner] George [Steinbrenner] felt about him. When you honor Nelson Mandela and Jackie Robinson, you can't do much better than that."
Robinson's "legacy lives on," said Rachel Robinson about her husband, who passed away at 53 in 1972.
Because of the foresight of legendary Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, Robinson jogged out to play first base at Ebbets Field against the Boston Braves on April 15 in 1947.
Rickey's goal was to have Robinson shatter baseball's decades-old color barrier and the sport was irrevocably changed, as a wave of Negro Leagues players followed Robinson into the Major Leagues, almost instantly transforming the rosters of the Dodgers, Indians and New York Giants.
"The more I thought about what Branch Rickey did in baseball way back when, it stuns me, in respect to history," Selig said. "When you think about the courage the guy had, 3 1/2 years before [President] Harry Truman desegregated the United States Army, seven years before Brown v. Board of Education, 18 years before the Civil Rights Act. And so baseball did play a great role and I'm proud of that."
The annual celebration of Robinson's life and impact was once again widespread. Here's a sampling of what happened elsewhere where the weather didn't play havoc with the schedule:
In Miami, before the Marlins played the Nationals at Marlins Park, Michael Hill, the only African-American president of baseball operations in the Majors, paid tribute to one of his high school teachers, Patricia Dunn of Cincinnati Country Day School.
Hill, thanking Dunn, is part of an organizational launching of the program "Marlins Fishing for Teachers," an initiative set up for team employees to recognize impactful teachers.
"I am glad to have the opportunity to thank a person who has impacted so many lives, not just mine," Hill said. "Teachers impact thousands of young peoples' lives across the world. They don't get the recognition they are due. I'm hopeful that through this program, more people will be impacted."
In Arlington, where the Rangers hosted the Mariners, Texas outfielder Michael Choice had the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream: Wearing the cherished No. 42.
"It's really a special day for me," said Choice, who grew up locally, playing ball at both Mansfield Timberview High and UT-Arlington. "Once they started doing Jackie Robinson Day, I always thought it would be cool to experience wearing that uniform in a big league park. I think it's awesome. He did so much for the game and opened up so many opportunities. It's truly incredible what he did. So, to me, it's an honor to wear his jersey today."
In Cincinnati, prior to the regularly scheduled Reds-Pirates game at Great American Ball Park, former Reds player Chuck Harmon was honored as the 2014 recipient of the Powel Crosby Jr. Award for his "dedication, devotion and service" to the Reds.
Harmon was the first African-American to play for the Reds 60 years ago on April 7, 1954. Harmon, 90, signed autographs and met with fans at the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, and served as the Reds' honorary captain, exchanging lineup cards just before the first pitch.
"Without question, it's a notable acknowledgment of a huge achievement by an outstanding man," Reds manager Bryan Price said of Robinson. "That can't be overlooked by any means."
In Chicago, during the hours before the White Sox-Red Sox game, a special panel discussion entitled "Jackie Robinson: A Catalyst for Change in American Society" was hosted by the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams and Dr. Carol Adams shared their views and perspective on Robinson as an agent for baseball and American society.
Reinsdorf grew up in Brooklyn and attended Robinson's first game. Minnie Minoso, the first black player in franchise history, Illinois governor Pat Quinn and students from local Chicago high schools Kenwood Academy, King College Prep, Leo High School, Seton Academy and Simeon Career Academy were also in attendance.
"It's important, I think not just baseball, but in life," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of Jackie Robinson Day. "It changed a lot of things in America that baseball should be proud of."
In San Diego, before the Padres played the Rockies at Petco Park, the home club hosted 42 youngsters from the local Jackie Robinson YMCA. They took their places along the first-base line wearing Padres No. 42 jerseys, while on the third-base line, members of the Padres' RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) leagues took their own places. In the Park at the Park, the Jackie Robinson YMCA drum line the Thunder Squad entertained.
"I think it's great," Padres outfielder Will Venable said. "As a whole, I think baseball does a great job of paying tribute to the important people in the game, and in the world."
In Anaheim, where the Angels played the A's, the Angels offered the fans at Angel Stadium a pregame video tribute to Robinson.
"Without Jackie Robinson doing what he did, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you," said Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick, the only African-American player on the team.
"It's a signature day for the sport," starter C.J. Wilson said. "Not too many singular person's name, number and performance can be celebrated like that, once a year and on a daily basis, and on a global scale."
In San Francisco, where the Giants played the Dodgers, public address announcer Renel Brooks-Moon, speaking from a podium set up behind home plate at AT&T Park, read a message from Monte Irvin, who competed against Robinson when the two clubs made New York and Brooklyn home.
Irvin, a Hall of Famer like Robinson, expressed regret that, at age 95, he couldn't be present. It was the most touching moment of the pregame celebration.
Irvin, who formed baseball's first all-black outfield with Willie Mays and Hank Thompson in 1951, said of Robinson that he could not "think of a better role model" to have brought about the "monumental shift in baseball."
"He led by example and this beautiful game of baseball became a force of good at a very challenging time," Irvin wrote. "I love that the Giants are playing the Dodgers tonight -- the best rivalry in sports. Enjoy the game you have the privilege to play. Please keep Jackie Robinson's legacy alive by respecting the game and respecting each other."
In Phoenix, where the D-backs played the Mets at Chase Field, the D-backs recognized an Arizona Jackie Robinson Foundation scholar Lucia Carbajal, and MLB All-Star Arizona Diamondbacks Branch Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year Edreyse Sharkey during a special pregame ceremony. The club also contributed $4,200 -- in honor of Robinson's No. 42 -- to both the Jackie Robinson Foundation and the local Boys & Girls Club.
"The thing that he did most of all was that he stood up for all of us," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "So to honor that and respect that and to talk about it and to pass on what he'd want us to pass on is important. He was willing to really risk his life and his livelihood and I think it encourages us as we stop and reflect on it to do the same."
In Minneapolis, where the Twins played the Blue Jays, the Twins had a Celebrate Diversity Day in tribute to Robinson. The pregame festivities at Target Field included a lineup of musical and cultural performances. In addition, Jackie Robinson Essay winners were presented with awards.
Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks, the lone African-American on Minnesota's roster, said he was honored to be wearing No. 42.
"He allowed us to play baseball and lifted the barrier for a lot of black players," Hicks said. "It just means a lot. This is the first time where everyone is wearing it as Jackie's number, because obviously Mariano Rivera wore it. So it's kind of cool to see the number fully committed to Jackie Robinson."
In Houston, where the Astros played the Royals at Minute Maid Park, the Astros geared up to host the annual Civil Rights Game and Beacon Award Luncheon on May 30. Young players from the Astros Urban Youth Academy took the field to present the starting lineup and Shawn Taylor, an African-American member of the Astros ownership group, threw out the first pitch.
"It's probably the greatest day in baseball history," said Bo Porter, one of only two African-American managers currently in the Majors, about the day Robinson played his first game for the Dodgers. "I think you look at not only his accomplishments, but the circumstances he had to deal with, in order to play day in and day out. For him to be able to block all that out and go out and perform the way he performed, it's remarkable."
In Milwaukee, where the Brewers faced the Cardinals at Miller Park, bench coach Jerry Narron said that Rickey is the unsung hero of the Robinson saga.
"Mr. Rickey is way overlooked in this, I believe," Narron said. "I think Mr. Rickey's faith had as much to do with it as anything, being a Christian and believing everybody was created equal and should be treated equal. He was hated and ridiculed and everything else at the time. He went against a lot of people to sign Jackie Robinson and bring him to the big leagues."
Even in tiny Vero Beach, Fla., where the Dodgers made their Spring Training home from 1949-2008, Robinson was to be honored during a Florida State League game between Lakeland and Brevard County. Admission was $5 and the proceeds were donated to the United Way of Indian County.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.