Robinson honored with more than words

Robinson honored with more than words

LOS ANGELES -- With his No. 42 glowing from the video board and the Los Angeles Dodgers wearing throwback Brooklyn Dodgers uniforms, the memory of Jackie Robinson was honored Friday night on what has officially been declared his day each year throughout Major League Baseball.

From coast-to-coast, Major League teams honored Robinson on the 58th anniversary of his first game -- April 15, 1947, a 5-3 victory over the Boston Braves at old Ebbetts Field in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. Robinson became the first African-American to play an MLB game that day, thus changing the course of history.

But nowhere on Friday was the mood more poignant than at Dodger Stadium, where Robinson made his final official appearance as a Dodger in 1972 only months before he passed away at 53 years of age. On that June day when the Dodgers retired his number, Robinson's widow, Rachel, was in attendance. And she was there again on Friday night.

"It's a great thrill for me to be here this evening," she said at a media conference, virtually echoing the same remarks an hour or so later during the ceremony. "I'm a Dodger fan, a lifetime fan. We lived through victory. Times we should have won and didn't. The move to California. I'm still a fan and I love the team very much."

Rachel was escorted to the field by Dodgers center fielder Milton Bradley; Don Newcombe, a pitcher and teammate of Robinson's on the 1955 squad that finally defeated the Yankees to win the World Series, and Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer.

The rest of the current Dodgers then trotted out to home plate, dressed in that legendary Brooklyn uniform, circa 1952-1957, and joined the quartet.

All these years later, Rachel Robinson still referred to her late husband as "my beloved Jack."

"My fervent hope is that each and every one of us will continue to press for equal opportunity in our society and our national pastime," Rachel Robinson told the crowd. "That is the lasting value of Jackie's legacy."

The ceremony ended a whirlwind few days in the Los Angeles area for Rachel Robinson, their daughter Sharon and a supporting cast.

On Thursday, a plaque was unveiled at the Los Angeles Coliseum in recognition of Jackie's achievements as a collegiate and professional athlete. Earlier on Friday, the Los Angeles City Council declared the day, "Jackie Robinson Day" throughout the county.

On Friday, Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt announced that the team will endow the Jackie Robinson Foundation with a grant of $105,000 annually to sponsor 42 new college scholarships worth $2,500 apiece to minority students in Los Angeles. The number of scholarships, of course, echoes Jackie's uniform number.

"When you think of the history of this club, you think of innovation and family," Frank McCourt said. "You think of community involvement, and yes, competitiveness. What we do today is in Jackie's memory and in the memory of his retired No. 42."

Jackie's number was retired by decree of Commissioner Bud Selig throughout baseball in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of Robinson joining the Dodgers.

Even DuPuy got into the act, pledging his own personal scholarship to the foundation of $10,000 this year.

The Foundation was established 32 years ago in Jackie's name to promote education among the nation's minority students. Since then, more than 1,000 have been endowed and the graduation rate is 97 percent, said Della Britton Baeza, the foundation's president and chief executive.

At present, only three athletes fund scholarships through the foundation -- the Yankees' Derek Jeter, retired MLB star Mo Vaughn, and former NBA great Michael Jordan.

DuPuy said it wasn't the first time he has sponsored a scholarship through the foundation.

"I've always thought it was the right and proper thing to do," he said.

MLB is considering making what would amount to an annual $300,000 contribution to the foundation to fund one scholarship for each of the 30 MLB teams at $10,000 each a year, DuPuy said. The reason for that is simple.

"Bud has continually stated that baseball's most shining moment, it's most important moment in its history was the day that Jackie Robinson crossed the baseline and crossed the color line," DuPuy said.

It has been quite a year for the memory of Robinson, not to mention his living friends and family.

Last month in Washington, D.C., Robinson posthumously was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest non-military honor given by the U.S. Congress.

Throughout the season, the Dodgers will be honoring those 1955 World Series winners. With Robinson in uniform, the then Brooklynites won six National League pennants in 10 seasons, but lost to the Yankees in 1947, '49, '52, '53 and '56.

Robinson stole home late in Game 1 of the '55 series, but had to sit out the climatic Game 7 with a sore Achilles tendon. Sandy Amoros, a late inning defensive replacement, made the catch of a slicing Yogi Berra line drive near the left field foul at Yankee Stadium that saved the series.

By then, Robinson was already 35 years old and in decline. He batted only .182 in that series. But Rachel, who was there to watch every game, said that winning it all was the only thing that mattered.

"You have to think about the team," she said on Friday. "He just couldn't play that last game, but we were looking forward to winning. We had been trained to wait 'til next year, wait 'til the next inning. But we'd gotten that far. We couldn't let it go again."

A year later, Jackie retired rather than accept a trade to the rival New York Giants. Two years later, Brooklyn lost its beloved Dodgers to Los Angeles, where on Friday night Robinson's lasting legacy was highlighted once again.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.