Across MLB, tributes and admiration for trailblazing Hall of Famer
By Andrew Simon
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier when he started for the Brooklyn Dodgers against the Boston Braves at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field.
Friday marked the 69th anniversary of that historic event, which Major League Baseball now celebrates annually as Jackie Robinson Day. Teams across the league honored the Hall of Famer, who died in 1972 at the age of 53, by holding pregame ceremonies, welcoming special guests and important community figures and raising money for the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
On top of that, all uniformed personnel throughout the Major Leagues wore Robinson's retired No. 42 jersey, as they do each April 15.
The day of course held special meaning in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers welcomed Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars and alumni to the field before their game against the Giants, along with Robinson's former teammate, Don Newcombe, and his daughter, Sharon Robinson. Dodgers partner Magic Johnson then teamed up with Frank Robinson, the game's first African-American manager, to escort Rachel Robinson, Jackie's widow, onto the field. Frank Robinson proceeded to throw the ceremonial first pitch to Dave Roberts, the Dodgers' first minority manager.
Each big league city that hosted a game on Friday also did its part to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day. In Philadelphia, the Negro Leagues' Philadelphia Stars were honored, with Dr. Mahlene Duckett-Lee, daughter of former Stars player Mahlon Duckett, taking part in an on-field tribute. Members of the Tuskegee Airmen also served as the honor guard.
In Houston, Sylvester Turner, the city's second African-American mayor, threw out the first pitch.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was on hand to see the Yankees host the Mariners at Yankee Stadium, where the national anthem was performed by the Renaissance Youth Music with a Message Choir, a group created to serve underprivileged inner-city youth through arts education.
Before their game against the Mets at Progressive Field, the Indians showed a video celebrating both Robinson and Tribe great Larry Doby for their roles in helping integrate baseball in 1947. Doby integrated the American League when he joined Cleveland that July, a few months after Robinson's debut.
"I think it's so important to recognize and pay tribute to him, what he went through," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Robinson. "I think it goes beyond baseball. At times, I hope that we're celebrating the right things. The fact of what he had to endure is hard to imagine. And when you think about that, how embarrassing it is that somebody's treated differently because of the color of their skin -- nobody's ever going to be able to explain that one to me where I understand it."
For players, the chance to take the field wearing No. 42 was not to be taken lightly.
"That's the symbol," said Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, a Southern California native. "That's what started the ability for me to play, and other [minority players] before me to start playing."
The Astros' Carlos Correa, who debuted last June, was one of those participating in Jackie Robinson Day for the first time.
"He paved the way for a lot of us to play the game, and it really means a lot to be able to wear No. 42 tonight," Correa said. "The reason we're here today is because of Jackie."
Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward went a step further than the No. 42 jersey by also wearing special cleats against the Rockies at Wrigley Field. The shoes also featured Robinson's number on the sides.
"One person went through a lot of things to allow all of us to play baseball," Heyward said. "When I say all of us, I mean everybody. African-Americans, of course, but just to open up the door to integration for everyone."
Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson is another player who puts on special spikes each April 15.
"You always talk about the history of the game," Granderson said. "I think this is one of the big pieces of the history of the game to make it look like it does now, with just the number of different countries represented. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier when he did, that opened up opportunities for the game to be as diverse as it is today. So this is to thank him and get a chance to represent him."
Every year since debuting with the White Sox in 2011, left-hander Hector Santiago, now with the Angels, has held onto his No. 42 jersey from Jackie Robinson Day. Eventually, he plans to turn them into a display in his home.
"He gave us the opportunity the way he broke that barrier and led the way and paved the path for us where we can come out here and have a chance to even play professional baseball," Santiago said. "You look at this clubhouse, it's a mix of everything. [Players are thankful for] what he went through to make that possible for us to come out here and wear his jersey today."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has a different connection than most to Robinson, in that Russ "Monk" Meyer, one of Robinson's teammates, served as a coach for Showalter at previous stops in both the Minors and Majors.
"Some of the stories [Meyer] used to tell on the bus rides about some of the things that went on with the Brooklyn Dodgers … that's when I first started becoming intrigued by it, and realizing that [Robinson] was just class," Showalter said. "I don't know how many of us, or [if] anybody, in today's game could have done what he did. It's one of the things I really love, drawing attention to it every year, to learn from it. It's just remarkable."
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.