The Dodgers solemnly lined up along the third-base line, each one wearing the No. 42. Jackie Robinson broke major-league baseball's color...
LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers solemnly lined up along the third-base line, each one wearing the No. 42.
Jackie Robinson broke major-league baseball’s color barrier April 15, 1947, with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the sport celebrated the 60th anniversary of his debut across the country Sunday, when more than 200 players, managers and coaches wore his number.
“I’ve often said that baseball’s most powerful moment in its really terrific history was Jackie Robinson’s coming into baseball,” commissioner Bud Selig said during an on-field ceremony before the Dodgers beat San Diego 9-3.
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Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson threw out ceremonial first pitches, and fellow Hall of Famers Joe Morgan and Dave Winfield were on hand.
Adding a personal touch were Robinson’s widow, Rachel, and two Dodgers who knew him. Broadcaster Vin Scully paid tribute to Rachel Robinson, and Don Newcombe, Robinson’s former teammate and a longtime Dodgers executive, looked on.
Ten years ago, Selig announced that Robinson’s No. 42 was being retired by all major-league teams. The only player wearing No. 42 then who remains active is New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera. After Cincinnati’s Ken Griffey Jr. asked for permission to wear the number Sunday, Selig invited others to use No. 42 for the day.
This year’s celebration was centered at Dodger Stadium, not far from where Robinson grew up in Pasadena. He would become the first athlete to earn letters in four sports at UCLA, and he served in the U.S. Army during World War II before making his debut with the Dodgers at age 27.
The Brookinaires Gospel Choir from The First African Methodist Episcopal Church sang “Oh Happy Day,” a Robinson favorite. Twin logos acknowledging Robinson were painted beside the plate with another behind second base, and “Jackie Robinson Day” was printed on the bases. There was a video tribute with Morgan and Aaron among those participating. And several current players expressed their thanks to Robinson.
Selig presented Rachel Robinson with the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award for her work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, formed in 1973 to raise scholarship money for qualified minorities. Robinson died in October 1972 at age 53.
Rachel Robinson said 1,100 scholarship students have graduated from college and 266 are still in school since the foundation was formed.
“She’s made an enormous impact on our sport,” Selig said. “We are an institution with enormous social responsibilities. She keeps us focused on that.”
“Whites inside only” and “Coloreds entrance” were signs of the time when Robinson played his first game at Ebbets Field. He was subjected to racist remarks from players and fans alike. But Dodgers executive Branch Rickey made Robinson his choice to break the color barrier because he believed he was mature enough and tough enough to survive and thrive.
Robinson retired following the 1956 season — after the Dodgers traded him to the rival Giants — and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.
“That first day, we were so anxious in the morning without acknowledging it,” 84-year-old Rachel Robinson said. “I think what we felt at the end of the day was a great deal of relief. He performed even though he didn’t do very well.”
San Diego starting pitcher Chris Young, who was tagged with the loss by Los Angeles, wrote about Robinson for his 2002 Princeton thesis. He said that in doing the work, he learned a tremendous respect and appreciation for the former Dodgers’ star.
“I can’t imagine, having to go through that, the courage it took, the discipline, and just how successful he was,” Young said. “I mean, he wasn’t just successful integrating the game. He was a great baseball player. He’s a Hall of Fame baseball player. He wouldn’t allow himself to fail, and that’s tremendous.”
Ceremonies were held at 10 of the 15 big-league ballparks where games were scheduled Sunday — rain washed out games at the five other sites.
The St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers honored Robinson by having all their players outfitted in No. 42.
“What you’re doing is celebrating what this guy has done,” Griffey said. “Without him, who knows when the next African-American athlete is going to be able to play. The things that he went through and what he stands for, you have to celebrate his life and legacy. Today is just, for me, my way of saying thanks.”