Mariners at forefront of establishing Jackie Robinson Day

Griffey Jr. was first to don No. 42 to honor MLB trailblazer

Mariners at forefront of establishing Jackie Robinson Day

LOS ANGELES -- Ever since Ken Griffey Jr. donned a No. 42 jersey on April 15, 1997, the Mariners have been at the forefront of Major League Baseball's efforts to make Jackie Robinson Day special.

And the Mariners found themselves again in that spotlight Wednesday when they faced the Dodgers on the first combined Jackie Robinson Day and annual Civil Rights Game at Dodger Stadium.

Griffey flipped his number 24 to Robinson's 42 when the Mariners played the Indians on Jackie Robinson Day in '97, then suggested to former Commissioner Bud Selig that all players wear that number in future celebrations. Selig liked the idea so much that Griffey's plan went into place in 1999 and the tradition continued on Wednesday when all players, coaches and managers in baseball again donned 42.

A daylong Jackie Robinson celebration in Los Angeles and a pregame ceremony at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night featured Robinson's widow, Rachel, and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who became MLB's first African-American manager 40 years ago. Once the ceremonies were done, the Mariners proudly took the field wearing their 42 jerseys.

"When you're running out and everybody is wearing the same number, I think it touches you a little bit because everybody is the same," said center fielder Austin Jackson. "No matter the skin type, no matter where you're from, no matter the race or ethnicity, it doesn't matter. On this day, and every day really, we're all the same. We're all out to achieve the same goal. I just think it's special that MLB recognizes that."

Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, whose father named him after Jackie Robinson, said Robinson's legacy still resonates.

"He was a guy that, all the things he went through, that's the reason all of us are here today," Cano said. "Not only African-American, but Dominican, Venezuelan, from all over the place. We all should be proud of this day."

Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon, the only current African-American manager in baseball, took in the pregame ceremonies with pride.

"This is an important day," McClendon said. "It's a special day and I'm glad I'm part of it."

Despite a 5-2 loss, the Mariners enjoyed their first participation in the annual Civil Rights Game, which had always been held separately from Jackie Robinson Day in the past.

"Any time you have a chance to be a part of something like that, especially when we play baseball for our job, it makes it that much more special," said Jackson.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.