Statue of Robinson was unveiled at stadium in Los Angeles
By Richard Justice
LOS ANGELES -- Jackie Robinson's spirit hovered movingly over a day of emotion and affection at Dodger Stadium. There were teammates and friends gathered to honor his memory and salute his remarkable life. There was a long list of people who said they owed their opportunity to his courage and resolve.
Finally, there were the kids, dozens and dozens of them representing the hundreds who have received mentoring and more than $70 million in college financial assistance from Robinson's foundation.
Together they painted a collective portrait of a man who changed baseball and the world, continuing to work for social progress until his death at the age of 53 in 1972.
"Every advancement in society has come from people standing on the shoulders of giants," Dodgers president Stan Kasten said. "In the history of baseball and our country, few people have stood taller than Jackie Robinson."
There's something magical about Jackie Robinson Day at Dodger Stadium. His memory burns here like nowhere else. On this Jackie Robinson Day, the 70th anniversary of Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier, the Dodgers honored him by unveiling the first permanent statue at Dodger Stadium.
It's a powerful piece of art, an 800-pound bronze replica of Robinson sliding into a steal of home during his rookie season in 1947. Robinson's widow, Rachel, and his two living children, Sharon and David, joined Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Vin Scully and others in a ceremony capped by the unveiling of the statue on the left-field reserve plaza at Dodger Stadium.
"It's everything I hoped it was going to be," Sharon Robinson said. "It was inspirational and powerful. I feel like Dad's voice is still very much in our lives. We are fulfilling what he asked us in 1963. That is to stay in the struggle and to work as a family on a family mission. We are doing that.
"There's lots of work to be done, but we understand that struggle is ongoing. You gain some and then you lose some. You have to remain vigilant."
That image of stealing home is symbolic of the start of something and the reminder that the job is not yet finished. Also powerful are Robinson's words embedded along the base of the sculpture:
• "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
• "I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me. … All I ask is that you respect me as a human being."
• "There's not an American in this country free until every one of us is free."
Sculptor Branly Cadet, 52, was awarded the project after a process that began with him applying on a Dodgers fan website. To Cadet, the two-and-a-half years spent consulting with the Robinson family and designing and completing the project amounted to a labor of love.
"Jackie Robinson occupies a place in two worlds," Cadet said. "Not only is he a great athlete. He's also a very important historical figure in American history. As an African-American, I get to live the life I live as a direct result of people like Jackie Robinson. I felt beholden to him and really wanted to honor his legacy the best I could. My objective was to capture his dynamism on and off the field."
Frank Robinson credited Jackie for opening the door for him to play in the Major Leagues and then in pushing Major League Baseball to give a black man an opportunity to manage. Jackie Robinson repeated that goal in his final public appearance a few days before his death in 1972. Two years later, Frank Robinson was hired to manage the Cleveland Indians.
"I've thought so many times how much I wished he could have seen it," Robinson said.
They met once, that in Spring Training, when Frank Robinson could barely bring himself to speak to a man he admired on so many different levels.
"If it hadn't been for him breaking the barrier, I don't know if I'd had a chance [to manage]," Frank Robinson said. "That's something I'll always carry with me. I tried to conduct myself in a way he would have wanted me to carry myself."
Dodgers owner Magic Johnson thanked Jackie Robinson, as well. He said Jackie is surely looking down smiling at the idea of a black man being a part owner of his beloved Dodgers. Likewise, manager Dave Roberts. He said Jackie Robinson is never far from his thoughts, especially on Jackie Robinson Day when he wears No. 42 while managing Robinson's team.
Major League Baseball retired Robinson's No. 42 in 1997, but Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. suggested the number be worn once a season -- on Jackie Robinson Day.
"He sacrificed so much so that people like me could play this game," Griffey Jr. said in a telephone interview.
"I grew up around people who played with him and against him," said Griffey Jr., whose father, Ken Griffey Sr., played 19 seasons in the Majors from 1973-91. "I heard the stories. He's a hero in how he played and how he acted and what he accomplished. He wanted people of color to have a chance to play this game."
Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier was so inspired by Robinson's example that he funds three scholarships for the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
"I think the statue does an unbelievable job of capturing the emotion and the meaning of Jackie Robinson's life," Ethier said. "I can't wait to come up here during a quiet time and really take it in."
The Robinson family was honored by the Dodgers during a pregame ceremony, and the team's executives said they proudly embraced his Dodgers legacy.
"I couldn't do what I do without those guys knocking down doors and barriers," Johnson said. "I'm only able to do it because of a man like Jackie and Frank Robinson.
"You know Jack is smiling in heaven right now saying, `Wow, the whole country has changed.' This is truly a wonderful day."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.