04/15/12 11:45 PM ET
Baseball pays tribute to pioneer Robinson
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
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Earlier in the day, Sharon was joined by Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and Angels pitcher LaTroy Hawkins, among others, for ceremonies and a baseball and softball clinic on the baseball field in Macombs Dam Park across the street from Yankee Stadium for 200 players who participate in local Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) programs."When Jackie Robinson took the field in Brooklyn 65 years ago, he transcended the sport he loved and helped change our country in the most powerful way imaginable," Selig said. "It is a privilege for Major League Baseball to celebrate Jackie's enduring legacy each year, and we are proud that every April 15th, our young fans around the world have an opportunity to learn everything that the No. 42 stands for -- courage, grace and determination." Robinson played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, only a few miles from here at old Ebbets Field, which long ago was leveled by a wrecking ball. The six times the Yankees played the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series after Robinson's arrival were epic, with many of the games taking place across River Avenue at the original Yankee Stadium. The Yankees won five of them, losing only in 1955. "I think it's extremely important that we recognize Jackie every year because of what he endured, and how he did it with such dignity and how well he carried himself," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's an example for all of us, because I think at times we're all going to be tested in life. I think it's just a great day, and I think players look forward to it. It's an honor to be able to put on No. 42." Here's what happened elsewhere in baseball: Atlanta: The Braves honored Robinson with a youth tournament, involving 16 teams, that took place on Saturday just two miles from Turner Field. A highlight of the day came when Braves center fielder Michael Bourn and Jesse Simms, the grandson of Jackie and Rachel Robinson, addressed the kids. "The most important thing that I instill is about the legacy of my grandfather," Simms said. "There are many obstacles that we all have to overcome. This is for everybody in their lives, and most importantly, for our children. So, for the young kids, when I speak to them, it will be about overcoming obstacles and most importantly knowing that they have the support behind them. I think that's really important because a lot of times, children don't know where they're going to get their support from. The support is coming from our influence on youth to hopefully empower yourself to move on and really be an individual and to be a powerful individual at that. That's black, white, Asian. It doesn't matter color or creed. It's really just a common message." Boston: At Fenway Park, Ralph Branca threw out the first pitch. Branca, the pitcher who later gave up the pennant-winning homer to the Giants' Bobby Thomson, is the only living member of Robinson's 1947 Brooklyn team. Branca is also Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine's step father-in-law.
"I was in the locker room when Jackie walked in," Branca said. "I walked over and shook his hand, 'Welcome aboard.' All I could think was, can he help us win the pennant? Can he help us win games? I didn't think about the color of his skin because I lived on a block that was the United Nations of all blocks -- four black families, about nine families of Italian extraction, two Irish, two German, two Jewish. Blacks, I played with them. Went in their houses, they came into mine. Seeing Jackie meant nothing special or different to me."Chicago: At U.S. Cellular Field, former White Sox great Minnie Minoso, the first black player of Latin descent in franchise history in 1951, was recognized on the field, along with owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Sam Hairston became the first African-American player two months after Minoso.
"Sam was one of my rookie league coaches," White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said. "He filled us with story after story about Negro League play, players and tougher times. But he also spoke about some of the fun times as well. "It's Jackie. It's Larry Doby [the first African-American player in the American League]. It's a lot of the men that forged the way. [Robinson] was the first, but he wasn't the only one that was heckled, ridiculed and had to persevere. So, I look at today as certainly honoring him but also honoring those men."Kansas City: At Kaufmann Stadium, the Royals gave away T-shirts with the No. 42 emblazoned on them, meaning those singular digits were sprinkled throughout the stands as well as on the field. Before the game, Royals manager Ned Yost commented on the significance of honoring Robinson, who was honored with a video tribute.
"He was a pioneer, and baseball does a great job of saluting their pioneers," Yost said. "I think it's a cool thing, a neat gesture that everybody salutes that. Everybody in Major League Baseball is wearing No. 42 today. I think that's a special, special thing."Earlier in the season, Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain was asked to sign a Jackie Robinson jersey in Anaheim. He said it meant a lot to him.
"He definitely opened eyes for African-Americans in baseball," Cain said on April 7. "It's definitely a privilege to get to sign his jersey and to get to celebrate this special moment for him. It's definitely a great moment, a great day."Los Angeles: At Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers not only wore Jackie's No. 42, but also the old Brooklyn caps with the "B" inscribed on it from the day Robinson played his first game. The "B" was replaced by "LA" when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. Don Newcombe and Tommy Davis, former Dodgers whose lives and careers were influenced greatly by Robinson, threw out ceremonial first pitches before Sunday's Padres-Dodgers game. Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon, who was born in 1988, said he felt chills when he saw the No. 42 jersey hanging in his locker.
"To be able to put that on, that's the jersey he wore," Gordon said. "I'm honored to be able to wear it. He gave me the chance. If he wasn't able to take the things he went through, and just turn the other cheek, and play a great game of baseball, I probably wouldn't be here today."
Minneapolis: At Target Field, the Twins aired a video tribute, featuring center fielder Denard Span, who talked about what Robinson means to him as an African-American player and how much of an honor it is to wear No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day. The Twins started their Jackie Robinson celebrations a day early as they hosted a free baseball clinic at North High Community School on Saturday. On Sunday, The Twins honored this year's local Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholars: Keon Blasingame, Alex Kado, Tasha Byers and Andrea Glover.
Philadelphia: At Citizens Bank Park, The Phillies honored Robinson with a 15-minute ceremony before Sunday's game against the Mets. Two surviving members of the Philadelphia Stars -- pitcher Harold Gould and second baseman Mahlon Duckett -- were introduced with Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and John Mayberry Jr. participating in the ceremony. Members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, who made history at the same time Robinson became the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues, were recognized. In addition, a life-sized, hand-carved and painted statue of Robinson was on display in Ashburn Alley. Philadelphia resident Tyanna Hudson was presented with the Phillies' Jackie Robinson Scholarship, and David Thomas, who will be graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, was introduced as this year's Jackie Robinson Scholar.San Francisco: At AT&T Park, the Giants honored Jackie Robinson scholar Michael Duarte in a pregame ceremony at home plate. And with every player sporting Robinson's No. 42, it wasn't hard to recall his legacy. "This is a very special day for all Latin players," said Gregor Blanco, a right fielder in his first season with the Giants. "It means a lot to be able to wear his number. He opened up opportunities for everyone and not only helped baseball, but also helped the world."
Seattle: At Safeco Field, none other than National Basketball Association great Bill Russell threw out the first pitch. Russell was once the coach of the Supersonics. Russell lives outside Seattle and became the first black coach in pro sports when he accepted the position of player-coach of the 1966 Boston Celtics. He also became a friend of Robinson's and was a pallbearer at Robinson's funeral in 1972.In the Mariners' clubhouse before the game, outfielder Chone Figgins said it's always a special day when he and the rest of his teammates suit up in Robinson's No. 42.
"I think about just how fortunate I am and we all are," Figgins said. "I don't think people realize the magnitude of who he was and what he did, just from the baseball side, what he had to go through. I just hope that a lot of players understand that the stuff that he went through was beyond [sanity]. What he did made a huge difference for all of us being able to play this game."St. Louis: At Busch Stadium, the Cardinals' players and staff wore the cherished No. 42 in Robinson's honor.
"I think it's a great move by the game," first-year manager Mike Matheny said. "What Jackie Robinson has meant to this game and what his memory stands for is something that we can't forget. The courage and the mental toughness that he had, I think baseball picked the perfect person to come in and really break that barrier. He really represented himself and this game very well."
Toronto: At Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays and Orioles participated in a pregame ceremony in honor of Robinson. Blue Jays manager John Farrell said he believes that MLB has done the right thing by honoring Robinson on a yearly basis."[He's] certainly a pioneer for the obvious reasons, and I think it's a great tribute that the entire game wears his number in honor of him," Farrell said. "Anytime the game can highlight a key member of the sport, I think it's a great celebration." Washington: At Nationals Park, the Nationals staged a pregame trivia contest in honor of Robinson and recognized the Jackie Robinson Scholarship program. Nationals right-hander Edwin Jackson said he appreciates what Robinson did for him.
"He is the reason we are able to play today," Jackson said. "Without him, who knows where we would be in the game, how long it would have taken to open up doors for African Americans to play baseball. To endure the things he endured, all the death threats ... Everybody hated him; he still continued to play. It says a lot."
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.