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Baseball Pays Tribute to Jackie Robinson

April 15, 2009 04:30 PM
by Denis Cummings
Major League Baseball is honoring Jackie Robinson today on the 62nd anniversary of his first major league game.

Baseball Honors Jackie Robinson

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Every player, coach and umpire will wear No. 42 today in tribute to Jackie Robinson, who on April 15, 1947, became the first black player to play in the modern major leagues.

“With all Major League players, coaches and umpires wearing Jackie’s No. 42, we hope to demonstrate the magnitude of his impact on the game of baseball,” said MLB commissioner Bud Selig. “Major League Baseball will never forget the contributions that Jackie made both on and off the field.”

Robinson’s No. 42 was retired across baseball in 1997 as part of the 50th anniversary celebration. In 2007, after Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. petitioned the league for the right to wear the number, baseball allowed all players to wear it if they chose.

This year’s ceremonies for Robinson will be centered for the first time in New York, where he spent his entire 10-year career with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson’s widow, Rachel, and other family members, will appear at the dedication ceremony for the Jackie Robinson Rotunda at the entrance of Citi Field, the Mets’ new ballpark.

The rotunda features a statue of Robinson and “inscriptions and images that relate Robinson’s nine treasured values: courage, excellence, persistence, justice, teamwork, commitment, citizenship, determination and integrity,” writes MLB.com. “This is a tribute to Jack that in a million years he would’ve never have thought anyone would do. It feels very spiritual to me,” said Rachel Robinson.

Robinson is also being honored in Kansas City, where he played one year with the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs before being signed by Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is hosting a week-long program called “Before he was #42,” which includes photographs and memorabilia from Robinson’s days with the Monarchs, as well as lectures, roundtable discussion and other events.

Background: The life of Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson was a gifted athlete who starred in four sports at UCLA. He joined the army after graduation, where he fought for racial justice in two notable cases: first demanding that blacks be allowed into the Officers’ Candidate School, and then being court-martialed for refusing to give up his seat on an army bus.

Robinson joined the Monarchs in 1945, where he caught the eye of Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, who was looking for a black ballplayer to join him in his “great experiment” to integrate baseball. Rickey chose Robinson because he could “grasp and control the responsibilities of himself to his race and could carry that load.”

Robinson played one year with the Dodgers’ farm team in Montreal before joining the Dodgers in 1947. On April 15, he became the first black man to play in the modern Major Leagues.

Robinson faced racial abuse from fans, opponents and some teammates, but he remained strong and excelled on the field. Robinson—along with Larry Doby, who joined the Indians in July 1947—set off the gradual integration of baseball over the next decade.

As his career progressed, he became more assertive in demanding equal treatment, criticizing teams who still refused to sign black players. Following his retirement in 1957, he became active in political and social causes. He died on Oct. 24, 1972, of a heart attack.

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Reference: Jackie Robinson Day; “Before he was #42”

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