LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers paid tribute to Jackie Robinson on Friday, the anniversary of his breaking the color barrier, with current, former and future Dodgers taking part in a panel at Crenshaw High School about the impact Robinson had on baseball and American history. Don Newcombe, a special advisor to the Dodgers and former teammate of Robinson, moderated the panel, which included Dodgers greats "Sweet" Lou Johnson, Tommy Davis and Maury Wills, current Dodgers Matt Kemp, James Loney, Marcus Thames, Tony Gwynn and Xavier Paul and Dodgers prospect and Crenshaw High School alumnus Trayvon Robinson, who received a standing ovation when he was introduced.Newcombe, who is the only player in baseball history to win the Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award, opened the program talking about how he, Robinson and Roy Campanella were the first three black players to sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946 and how Dodgers owner Branch Rickey told the three young men how important their signing is for the African-American race. "'You three men fail, and there is no change,'" Newcombe recalled Rickey telling them. "'Nobody in baseball will take this on themselves. If I don't do it as owner of the Dodgers now, it's never going to get done. You fail, Jackie, and the whole program is scrapped. I got Roy and Don, but I need you, Jackie, to be the leader.' And Jackie was the leader, I kid you not. "Jackie gave me a chance to be somebody. A poor kid out of the ghetto of Elizabeth, New Jersey, and here I am, all those years later, speaking to an assemblage of young people at Crenshaw High School, here in Los Angeles, and it all came together because of the Dodgers. Jackie made me a winner and he made our team a winner and he started playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers 64 years ago today." After Newcombe spoke, students asked the players what they thought about the challenges Robinson had to endure in breaking the color barrier.
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"I don't know if I can handle somebody spitting on me and throwing rocks at me," said Kemp. "He's a whole other person. I have so much respect for him. When I was growing up, I was the only African-American on my baseball team. I only played with white guys, and I'm not comparing my life to his, his life was totally different. For him to overcome that was totally unbelievable.""It was nice to come out here to educate the people who maybe didn't get to know Jackie Robinson," said Gwynn, the son of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. "There was a plethora of information out there for them today, and it was a successful event." "It was an honor," said Thames. "Anytime they ask me to come and do stuff like this, I love to do it. Back when I was in high school, I never had a chance to have Major League players come out and talk about Jackie Robinson Day. It meant a lot, and I hope they really learned something from it." "Today was just like a big homecoming," said Trayvon Robinson. "I haven't been here for a couple of years and this is where it all started for me, and it started with Jackie. If it hadn't been for Jackie, there would be no Trayvon." "The kids really got to listen to what Jackie Robinson meant to a lot of people who are in the position I'm at," said Kemp, who has been taking part in Jackie Robinson Day events with the Dodgers since 2007. "Jackie Robinson definitely touched a lot of people, and for the younger generation to hear what he went through, the obstacles he had to overcome, is great. I hope they really listened and got something from it because today was a special day.
Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.