MLB celebrates Robinson's enduring impact
Baseball pioneer will be honored throughout big leagues Friday
Jackie Robinson started 151 games at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, including his historic debut on April 15 of that season.
In his 1972 autobiography, "I Never Had It Made", he recalled what it had felt like to stand alone at that position, the first and only black player in Major League Baseball at the time.
"I had to fight hard against loneliness, abuse, and the knowledge that any mistake I made would be magnified because I was the only black man out there," Robinson wrote. "I had to fight hard to become 'just another guy.' I had to deny my true fighting spirit so that the 'noble experiment' could succeed. ... But I never cared about acceptance as much as I cared about respect."
Friday is the eighth annual Jackie Robinson Day throughout the Majors, marking the 64th anniversary of the day baseball's color barrier was broken. If only Robinson could see the respect now. MLB is commemorating this year's special day with the launch of the new IAM42.com online campaign, multiple events, and, once again, all players and on-field personnel wearing the No. 42. It is the same number Robinson wore for Brooklyn from 1947-56.
"Each year, Jackie Robinson Day is an occasion for us to pause and reflect on the game's proudest and most powerful moment," said Commissioner Bud Selig. "Jackie's legacy is as strong and vibrant as ever throughout Major League Baseball. I am proud that the No. 42, which has come to stand for Jackie's courage and grace, will again be worn in honor of our game's greatest pioneer."
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"Jack loved the game of baseball and the tremendous power it had and still has to bring people together," said Rachel Robinson, Jackie's wife and founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation. "I believe he would have found Major League Baseball's decision to perpetually honor his legacy in this way both gratifying and humbling."
IAM42 is a new digital campaign designed for fans to make a personal connection to the legacy of the Hall of Famer through online video sharing and social networking. IAM42.com features personal video tributes from 64 current players and legends, including Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Lou Brock and Andre Dawson; and MLB All-Stars Jason Heyward, Prince Fielder, David Price, Mariano Rivera and David Wright.
Beginning on Jackie Robinson Day, fans of all ages are encouraged to share their thoughts on the enduring impact of Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier. The site will be updated throughout the year, in the leadup to the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's Major League debut.
IAM42.com is the latest MLB initiative aimed at educating all fans about Jackie Robinson and supporting his enduring legacy, joining Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI); Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life; Diverse Business Partners; and the MLB Urban Youth Academies. IAM42.com is powered by MLB.com.
"Jackie Robinson Day to me means he was a great person, one, but for the game of baseball and for the civil rights movement, of course," said Heyward, the Braves' second-year outfielder. "And for the people all across the world to show that we can put differences aside and play a game of baseball, and all be entertainment no matter what the ethnicity."
"Wearing No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day, to me, means the epitome of baseball today," Reds outfielder Jay Bruce said. "It lets everybody on the same stage, all the best players in the world get to compete against each other, and that's really the only true way that baseball is what it is."
Entertainer Sean Combs, who was honored at the recent Jackie Robinson Awards Dinner, said: "What Jackie Robinson has done for our culture is more powerful than just changing the face of sports and breaking down the color barrier. He changed all our lives."
Commissioner Selig and MLB have celebrated Robinson's longstanding legacy by retiring Robinson's number throughout the Majors in 1997 and, since 2004, dedicating April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day in his memory. Yankees closer Rivera is the last player who will wear No. 42 regularly, because he is the only player still active who was wearing it at the time it was retired throughout the game.
"The number alone is a tremendous responsibility," Rivera said. "Being the last player to wear No. 42 is a blessing, a privilege and an honor. I always try to do my best."
"The first thing you notice is everybody wearing the No. 42," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "It's the one day that it's accepted to wear it in baseball, because it's been retired. Everywhere you go, there's a 42 -- banner or star or square, whatever they have, a flag hanging up. It's all over the place. You know exactly the reason for the day, you know exactly what he meant to the game, and it's just a way to pay a tribute back to him."
The RBI program will host a youth baseball and softball clinic for 250 young boys and girls in Newark, N.J., and will feature Rangers manager Ron Washington, representatives from the New York Yankees and MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds. The RBI program is the MLB youth initiative designed to provide opportunities to play baseball and softball, to encourage academic success, and to teach the value of teamwork and other important life lessons to underserved young people, ages 5 to 18, from urban communities.
Additionally, the Baseball Tomorrow Fund will be present to unveil the newly constructed indoor practice facility, which is adjacent to a recently renovated field complex that serves as the home fields for the Newark RBI League and the local Little League program. A BTF grant of more than $33,000 provided funding for the purchase of batting cages, pitching tunnels and related equipment for the indoor facility, as well as coaches training clinic expenses.
Sharon Robinson, MLB educational programming consultant and daughter of Jackie, will be representing MLB in a Brooklyn school visit to announce a first-place winner in the 2011 Breaking Barriers Essay Contest, which recognizes students for their efforts to overcome personal barriers using the values exemplified by Jackie Robinson.
The Robinson family will join MLB in a special Jackie Robinson Day celebration at Yankee Stadium, prior to the 7:05 p.m. ET game against the Rangers in a nationally televised game carried live by MLB Network. The ceremony will include Rachel and Sharon, who is also vice chair of the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Additionally, the historic Tuskegee Airmen will be appearing on-field during pregame ceremonies.
One No. 42 jersey from every club will be signed and auctioned off on MLB.com, with the proceeds benefitting the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The foundation, established in 1973, provides four-year college scholarships, graduate school grants and extensive mentoring to academically distinguished minority students with leadership capacity. MLB and the 30 clubs sponsor more than 60 Jackie Robinson Scholars. The Foundation strives to cultivate future leaders who will be ambassadors of Jackie Robinson's guiding life tenet, "A life is not important except in its impact on other lives."
In support of Jackie Robinson Day, MLB Network will air "Letters From Jackie: The Private Thoughts of Jackie Robinson" at noon ET on Saturday. The special, which was produced by MLB Productions, focuses on Robinson's role in the American civil rights movement, predominantly after he retired from baseball. The story is told in Robinson's own words, through letters he wrote throughout his lifetime to political figures, including President Dwight Eisenhower, and to a young pen pal, Ron Rabinovitz, with whom Robinson kept in touch from 1955 until his death in 1972.
All clubs playing at home on Friday will commemorate Jackie Robinson Day with special pregame ceremonies in their ballparks. Home clubs will feature Jackie Robinson Day jeweled bases and lineup cards, and a special video that highlights Robinson's story and nine values will be shown in-stadium. Clubs not playing at home Friday will hold Jackie Robinson Day commemorations at their ballparks during another homestand in April.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.