MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Baseball owes debt to Jackie for courage, spirit

Baseball owes debt to Jackie for courage, spirit

The visual imagery remains striking: All Major League Baseball uniformed personnel wearing No. 42, in tribute to Jackie Robinson on the anniversary of baseball's racial barrier being brought down.

Today, MLB will celebrate the 69th anniversary of Robinson's first appearance as a big leaguer, on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Before American schools were integrated, before American armed forces were integrated, baseball was integrated.

For the courage and fortitude Robinson displayed, baseball is forever in his debt. Jackie Robinson Day, initiated at the urging of then-Commissioner Bud Selig, began in 2004. The tradition of all uniformed personnel wearing Robinson's number was started in '09, based on an idea that originated with Ken Griffey Jr., soon to be inducted as a Hall of Famer.

Jackie Robinson Day coverage

Every Major League game in North America today and tonight will have ceremonies celebrating Jackie Robinson Day and commemorating the man. Before we get into the details of those festivities, it might be reasonable to remember what it meant when Jackie Robinson wore No. 42.

Friday marks Jackie Robinson Day

Ken Burns' documentary, "Jackie Robinson," which recently aired on PBS, depicted a tense situation that developed as the Dodgers were about to play a doubleheader in Cincinnati in 1951. Letters had been sent to the Reds and the local newspapers saying that Robinson would be shot if he took the field.

"I won't use the words that they said, but they said, 'If you show up at Crosley Field, you are going to die,'" said pitcher Don Newcombe in the documentary. "Jackie said, 'Are you goin' to the ballpark today?' I said, 'Are you goin'?' He said, 'Yes, I'm goin'.' I said, 'Well, I'm goin' too.'"

"That [situation] was deadly serious," said Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. "They had FBI men throughout the ballpark, on the rooftops and they had a meeting before the game. It was pretty tense."

Jackie's legacy continues to push game forward

Pitcher Carl Erskine recalled the meeting, as well.

"It got pretty quiet," Erskine said. "What do we say? [Outfielder] Gene Hermanski, kind of a kidder, said: 'Hey, Skip, I've got an idea. If we all wear No. 42, they wouldn't know who to shoot at.'

"Jackie had a good laugh, and he said, 'Let's play baseball.'"

Robinson hit a three-run homer in the first game and Brooklyn swept a doubleheader from Cincinnati. As the documentary reported, "No shots were fired."

Today and tonight, at ballparks from San Diego to Boston, Robinson's memory will be honored. An obvious focal point of these celebrations will be at Dodger Stadium, where the Dodgers, fittingly enough, will be playing the Giants.

The pregame ceremonies will include appearances by Robinson's widow, Rachel, and his daughter, Sharon. Also on hand will be Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, the first African-American manager in the big leagues; basketball great and a Dodgers part owner Earvin "Magic" Johnson; and Newcombe, once Robinson's teammate, now a special advisor for the Dodgers. Rachel Robinson, 93, has become a beloved presence at these events, and at any public appearances she makes.

The ceremonies will also include 11 Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars and alumni and regional winners of the "Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life" essay contest, which is run by MLB, Scholastic and Sharon Robinson.

MLB Tonight: Playing like Jackie

The first 40,000 fans in attendance at Dodger Stadium will receive an adult replica Jackie Robinson jersey presented by Bank of America.

All clubs playing at home today and tonight will commemorate Jackie Robinson Day with special on-field pregame ceremonies in their ballparks. Home clubs will feature Jackie Robinson Day jeweled bases and lineup cards.

MLB.com will have complete coverage of the day's events from each Major League ballpark with photographs, video highlights, interviews and stories from beat and national reporters. Included in the coverage will be a special Jackie Robinson Day edition of the Edward Jones Chatting Cage on MLB.com at 4 p.m. ET, when fans will be able to talk live one-on-one with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts prior to the Giants-Dodgers game.

No. 42 returns as baseball celebrates Jackie

Additionally, MLB.com will support Jackie Robinson Day events across MLB.com, the MLB.com At Bat app, Cut4.com, and through official MLB and club accounts on social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. Jackie Robinson Day will be supported across social media again with its official hashtag: #Jackie42.

MLB Network is televising extensive Jackie Robinson Day programming including the national telecast of the Giants-Dodgers game. Leading up to the game, MLB Network will air coverage of club commemorations plus interviews with current and former players about Robinson's legacy, including Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, Roberts, and current players Chris Archer, Adam Jones and Brandon Phillips, as well as a new interview by Bob Costas with Newcombe.

All of this underscores the importance of this day, April 15, 1947, the first time an African-American played Major League Baseball. It was baseball's proudest day in its role as an American institution. On Jackie Robinson Day, there should be a No. 42 for everyone in America.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.