Notes: Lee to honor Jackie Robinson

Notes: Lee to honor Jackie Robinson

CINCINNATI -- Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee knows he wouldn't be playing Major League Baseball if not for Jackie Robinson. On April 15, he'll be able to show his appreciation and wear Robinson's No. 42.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig extended an invitation to all clubs to allow any of its members to wear No. 42 after Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr. received permission to do so on the 60th anniversary of Robinson's entry into the game.

On April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson's entry into Major League Baseball, Selig had announced that Robinson's No. 42 would be retired throughout baseball and never again issued to on-field personnel.

Thursday, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry asked Lee if he would like to wear No. 42.

"It means a lot," Lee said. "I wouldn't be here without Jackie Robinson. It's my way of kind of saying thank you. I probably won't get another opportunity to wear that number. It will be special to have 42 on my back."

Robinson's legacy has not been forgotten, Lee said.

"His number is up in every stadium," Lee said. "Every year, around this time of year, you hear the Jackie Robinson story. The younger generation probably doesn't know as much. That kind of happens with everything. The younger generation isn't up to all the things we are, but I think baseball does a good job of keeping the story alive.

"What he's done goes way beyond baseball," Lee said. "He opened up so many doors for so many people. If he didn't handle himself the way he did, it would be a whole different story."

However, there are fewer African-Americans participating in baseball. Lee said the players need to do a better job of promoting the sport.

"Baseball is a sport where you need equipment, you need people, you need fields," Lee said. "We could do a better job of supplying those things. Maybe we could market the game a little better. When I turn on the TV, I see Lebron James or Kobe Bryant doing commercials, but rarely do I turn on the TV and see Ken Griffey or Barry Bonds doing a commercial. If I'm an African-American kid, I'll do what I can to relate a little more. Baseball is a great outlet for these kids and we need to do a better job of understanding that."

Lee never had to endure the level of taunting or harassment that Robinson had.

"I'm sure there were times he wanted to fight," Lee said. "I'm sure there were times he wanted to walk away. I'm sure there were times he wanted to do something crazy, [but] he understood the responsibility he had and he kept his cool and handled himself with class, and that says a lot about his character."

Lee isn't the only one who would like to honor the legendary Robinson. Cubs outfielder Jacque Jones said Thursday it would be an honor to wear No. 42.

"I would love to," Jones said. "I know why I'm here."

Meeting of the minds: Don't expect to see Cubs manager Lou Piniella walking to the mound too often for a chat with a pitcher.

"Most of the time, the pitching coach will go out," Piniella said. "When I go out, we don't talk mechanics."

On Wednesday night, Piniella went to the mound after Ryan Dempster had walked a batter with one out in the ninth and then thrown a first-pitch ball to Griffey. Piniella's message was clear.

"Don't make a big deal out of this thing," Piniella said. "But you've got a three-run lead and it's snowing out there and 30 degrees. Make them hit it, let's go home. You start walking people, and get behind and all of a sudden, somebody pops a ball. What do you do? I don't go out there very often."

When Piniella managed the Cincinnati Reds, he had pitching coach Stan Williams go to the mound to take Danny Jackson out. The two had a long conversation and Jackson convinced Williams to keep him in the game. The next pitch from Jackson sailed into the upper deck for a grand slam.

"I told him, 'Carry him out if you have to,'" Piniella said. "It happens. It shouldn't."

One time, Piniella tried to get the ball back from a pitcher who wouldn't give it up. The pitcher faced the hitter and hit the batter in the foot with the first pitch.

"Once you get to know the pitchers and you gain confidence in them, you talk to them and say, 'How do you feel? Can you get me one more hitter?'" Piniella said. "The best thing to do, basically, is when you're headed out there, just make your pitching change."

Mr. Versatility: Ryan Theriot subbed in left field on Wednesday, and had an interesting night dealing with the wind and fly balls. He may get more late-inning appearances in the outfield.

"That's what we're going to do, and if we can't, we'll have to go and get an outfielder who can do that for us," Piniella said. "We're trying Theriot. We tried him at the end of Spring Training in the outfield. I'm hoping he can do that for us. He's an athlete."

Theriot has put in plenty of time with outfield instructor Mike Quade.

"He gives us good speed and has an arm out there," Piniella said of Theriot. "He has good range. It's just a question of getting acclimated. We do need that in our team makeup."

Saving grace: Dempster notched his 60th save on Wednesday night and moved into a tie for fourth all-time for the Cubs. Lee Smith is the all-time team leader with 180 saves, followed by Bruce Sutter with 133 and Randy Myers with 112. Dempster is now tied with Phil Regan.

Extra bases: Ted Lilly's bunt on Wednesday wasn't planned. "He actually missed a sign," Piniella said. "We weren't bunting. He was supposed to swing. So don't think we were very smart." ... Lilly struck out nine in his Cubs debut Wednesday. Over the last 50 seasons, only one pitcher struck out more batters in his debut for the team. On May 22, 2002, Mark Prior fanned 10 Pirates over six innings at Wrigley Field in his Cubs debut. The last pitcher to throw a complete game in his first Cubs game was Andrew Lorraine vs. Houston on Aug. 6, 1999. ... Sunday will be an anniversary of sorts for Piniella. On April 8, 1986, he made his managerial debut when Piniella's Yankees beat the Royals, 4-2, at Yankee Stadium before a crowd of 55,602. Ron Guidry threw five innings for the win. ... Theriot was in the Cubs' original lineup Wednesday. Why was he scratched? "Carmac, the magician," Piniella said. "We just changed. No reason."

On deck: Rich Hill will open the Cubs' weekend series in Milwaukee on Friday at 7:05 p.m. CT. Hill is coming off a solid spring in which he did not walk a batter. He'll face Dave Bush on Friday, while Carlos Zambrano will make his second start on Saturday against Ben Sheets and Wade Miller will make his first start Sunday against Chris Capuano.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.