Pregame ceremonies, uniformed No. 42 jerseys spread across the Majors
By Daniel Kramer
Few days on Major League Baseball's schedule unify the game like April 15 does, when baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day and pays homage to the Hall of Famer who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947.
As part of the 70th anniversary of Robinson's debut, the Dodgers unveiled an 800-pound bronze statue depicting Robinson as a rookie sliding into home plate, placed in the left-field plaza, the most popular entrance to the park. Robinson's wife, Rachel, and children Sharon and David were in attendance, along with Lakers legend and Dodgers owner Magic Johnson, president and CEO Stan Kasten, Hall of Famer and MLB's first black manager Frank Robinson, as well as Dodgers icons Vin Scully, Tommy Lasorda, Sandy Koufax, Don Newcombe and Jaime Jarrin.
"Some [players] are taller than others, some are heavier than others, some are left-handed, some are right-handed," Scully said. "But the one thing they share in carrying No. 42 is the fact that the man who wore it gave them the one thing that no one at the time could ever have done. He gave them equality, and he gave them opportunity."
In addition to the ceremony at Dodger Stadium, MLB created specialty bases and lineup cards with a commemorative logo for Saturday's games.
In the Bronx, roughly 15 miles from where Robinson made his big league debut, the Yankees hosted members of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, who annually take part in a program that sends 225 students to college. The No. 42 jerseys worn on Saturday will be signed and auctioned off on MLB.com (MLB.com/42jersey) to benefit that cause.
Yankees starter CC Sabathia tossed a gem over 7 1/3 innings to earn his second win on the season. "It was exciting to be out there on the mound: It's a big day for baseball and African-American players," Sabathia said. "To be able to wear '42' and get a win felt good."
In Washington, the Nationals pooled the Robinson ceremonies with their annual Black Heritage Day, where they pay tribute to African-Americans in the D.C. community. For Nats manager Dusty Baker, one of two African-American managers in MLB, Saturday's ceremonies carry an added significance.
"Every day is Jackie Robinson Day to me," said Baker, who donned a No. 42 on his everyday wristbands. "If it wasn't for him I wouldn't be in baseball. I wouldn't be working as a player, and I wouldn't have this job."
In the clubhouse, many players wore blue shirts with Robinson's number imprinted. Bryce Harper posted to his Instagram account a photo of custom cleats with an image of Robinson sliding into home plate. In the faded backdrop were Robinson's career stats.
In Miami, veteran Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson wore for the fourth consecutive year a customized pair of cleats to commemorate the day.
Granderson plans to auction off the cleats at his website with proceeds going to the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
"You look around, especially this clubhouse, the way things are versus when Jackie broke in 70 years ago -- diverse coaching staff, diverse training staff, players," Granderson said. "Across the board, it's really neat to see. And then you think about how it used to be. So it's kind of a good and bad situation, but definitely more good than anything."
In 1947, Jackie Robinson stood up in front of thousands of people who were rooting against him & did what he did best - played ball! #heropic.twitter.com/NHoic5zap8
Opponents on the field in Atlanta today, Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran and his good friend Christian Bethancourt, who is now serving as a catcher/pitcher for the Padres, are among the game's Latin American-born players who understand they are among the countless many members of the baseball world who continue to benefit from Robinson's bravery.
"Let's put it this way -- It means everything to African-American players and players like me from Latin America," Bethancourt said. "[Robinson's] basically the reason we're here in professional baseball. He meant so much to the game, that it's not only the African-American players or the Latin players who are grateful to him. It's everybody. He's the only player who we wear his number for one day. … I feel like I get to be Jackie Robinson for one day, that day I'm putting on Jackie Robinson's jersey and I get to represent Jackie Robinson."
In Minnesota, White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson sported an ascot, bowtie and suspenders in a 1940s-themed outfit as he arrived at the Target Field clubhouse to pay homage to Robinson. The Tuscaloosa, Ala., native, who didn't start playing baseball until his junior year in high school, said he's made an added effort to learn more about Robinson in recent years.
"I learn a little bit more about him each year, really, just from watching the movies and reading about him," Anderson said. "It's definitely an honor to step on the field. Being an African-American, he basically paved the way for me and opened that door for me."
Outfielder Cameron Maybin, whose Angels were in Kansas City to play the Royals, celebrated Jackie Robinson Day by inviting students from Grades 4-9 to participate in an essay contest about the positivity that can emerge from overcoming obstacles. Maybin, who helps run the Maybin Mission Foundation, plans to visit the schools of each winner and welcome the students as future guests at Angel Stadium.
"We wanted to do something different for the kids, to give them the opportunity to talk about any scenario in their life that might have enabled them to overcome a situation and grow from failures," Maybin said. "Giving them the opportunity to talk about situations that have allowed them to persevere, as Jackie did."
In Toronto, Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale, who has been a part of MLB for more than three decades as a player and now coach, discussed the elevated awareness of Robinson's impact among the younger baseball culture.
"I'll say this," Hale said, "it went from recognizing him and his accomplishments -- and you have a day where everybody's wearing 42 -- to this younger generation understanding more of the impact he made. Not only in baseball but in society. You start to have conversations with them and you hear a change in their conversation."
In Cincinnati, the Reds recognized Jackie Robinson scholar and University of Cincinnati student Timothy Davis and his friend Michael Ingram, who, respectively, threw and caught the ceremonial first pitch. Brewers first baseman Eric Thames -- who is back in MLB after spending three years playing professionally in Korea -- recalled honoring Robinson as a 17-year-old playing for his high school.
"I think about him and what he went through to get out of myself when things are not going great, when I'm tempted to complain about the umpire or the weather of whatever," he said. "Just think about the whole stadium wanting you to fail because of the color of your skin. Yeah, it's going to be really cool to put on No. 42. Really cool."
McCutchen would deliver a clutch homer in the Pirates' 8-7 win, tipping his cap after reaching home as he does after every long ball. The gesture specifically acknowledges his wife, Maria, but McCutchen picked it up from Robinson -- the version of Robinson depicted in the movie "42," at least. McCutchen watched Robinson tip his cap toward his wife, Rachel, after homering in the film and decided he would do the same ever since.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon recalled conversations with Don Zimmer, who was a teammate of Robinson's from 1954-56.
"'Zim always talked about how good of a player Jackie was, and how hard he played, and what a good teammate he was," Maddon said.
Wrigley Field is the only active MLB stadium in which Robinson played.
In Boston, where the Rays and Red Sox met, Chris Archer recalled reading Robinson's autobiography.
"I became really impressed when I read his autobiography and how active he was in the civil rights movement and all the distress going on as he played," Archer said. "To go and march the streets with Martin Luther King Jr. and the other activists, that's impressive."
In Oakland, A's reliever and Australia native Liam Hendriks, who admitted he didn't know much about Robinson when he came to America 10 years ago, expanded on more than just the precedent of breaking the color barrier.
"It helped break down the borders," he said. "Now we can have Australians coming over and playing. We can have Germans. We can have people from all those countries playing."
Across the Bay in San Francisco, where the Giants met the Rockies, Colorado first-base coach Tony Diaz -- who spent 17 years in the organization's Minor League system as an unofficial mentor to young Latin American prospects -- reflected on Robinson's impact.
"It's an obligation for every teacher to make sure that his students and players, and the next generations, appreciate and value what Jackie Robinson did," Diaz said. "He not only changed the game, but he changed our country.
In Detroit, where the Tigers hosted the Indians, Cleveland manager Terry Francona said this annual event has the most significance of any on the MLB schedule.
"In my opinion, this is the most important day we salute, or we honor, of any day of the year," said Francona.
Robinson played 10 MLB seasons, all with the Dodgers, compiling a .311 average with 137 homers, 197 stolen bases and 1,518 hits in 1,382 games. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962 with a 77.5 percent vote in his first year of eligibility, joining Bob Feller in that class as the first players since the inaugural class of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson to be elected in their first year of eligibility. Robinson's No. 42 was retired by every MLB team on this day in 1997 as part of the 50th anniversary commemorating his debut.
Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.