'Sacred' No. 42 on display in baseball
From coast to coast, players honor Jackie Robinson
April 15, 1947, was a day unlike any other in Major League Baseball.
You could sort of say the same thing about Sunday.
On the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first African-American player in the Majors, there was: widespread use of a "sacred" No. 42 jersey number by on-field personnel; a game won by Cleveland despite only one hit and a game won by Cincinnati despite only two; almost constant references by broadcasters to someone who played long ago; a walk-off homer by Oakland's Marco Scutaro off real No. 42 Mariano Rivera of the Yankees; and an almost-unthinkable six rainouts due to a massive weather system in the East.
It was the most weather-related postponements in one day since April 12, 1997, when eight games were canceled.
Even the weather seemed to understand that this day was reserved for Jackie Robinson -- helping us all turn our eyes to Dodger Stadium for the evening's national celebration of this annual date on the baseball calendar.
"It's bigger than just a number," said Marlins pitcher Dontrelle Willis, who wore No. 42 for Sunday's game against the Braves. "This is American history. I might be going out on a limb, but I see so much emphasis on it the last couple of weeks about Jackie Robinson. . . . He opened the doors for everybody in baseball. If it wasn't for him, there wouldn't be a lot of the great storylines you see in baseball today. I hope they continue to have that intensity to remember Jackie Robinson at all times."
Rachel Robinson, the wife of Jackie Robinson and founder of The Jackie Robinson Foundation, was presented with the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award by Bud Selig hours before the Dodgers' game against San Diego. The award, created in 1998 to recognize achievement of historical significance, was given to Rachel for her contribution and sacrifice to the legacy of her late husband. Throughout her life, Rachel Robinson has championed numerous social and charitable causes and, in 1973, founded The Jackie Robinson Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide scholarships and leadership training.
"Rachel Robinson has played a significant role in the history of baseball through the strength she gave her husband, Jackie, and the way she has continued to champion the causes in which they both believed so strongly," Selig said. "On the 60th anniversary of Jackie's entry into the Major Leagues, it is fitting to honor Rachel with this prestigious award."
Along with that, the unquestioned highlight on this special day around the game was the wearing of the "Jackie Jerseys" by so many players, managers or coaches. Those jerseys will appear at the MLB.com Auction in coming days, with all proceeds going to The Jackie Robinson Foundation. And there will be plenty from which to choose.
It was the kind of day when you would click from one game to the other on MLB.TV and suddenly hear a broadcaster say: "In the 1955 World Series against Robinson's Dodgers, who wore No. 42 for the Yankees?" (Those guessing Jerry Coleman were right.)
Here is a roundup of Sunday's events:
Dodgers 9, Padres 3
This was the "national celebration" site because Jackie debuted with the Dodgers while in Brooklyn. Dodger players all wore No. 42, and No. 42 was pretty darned good on this night. On this whole day, in fact. He accounted for all the scoring and the Dodgers took the series in a game that could loom large when September closes.
In the pregame ceremonies, the Brookinaires Gospel Choir from The First African Methodist Episcopal Church sang "Oh Happy Day," a Robinson favorite. Twin logos acknowledging Robinson were painted on both sides of the plate with another behind second base, and "Jackie Robinson Day" was printed on the bases. There was a video tribute with Joe Morgan and Hank Aaron among those participating. And several current players expressed their thanks to Robinson.
Aaron and Frank Robinson threw out the ceremonial first pitches side-by-side. Jennifer Hudson's rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" was straight out of "Dreamgirls" -- a blast of electricity that evoked memories of that Whitney Houston rendition from a past Super Bowl. Nonpareil Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully, who called the action while Jackie was playing for much of his career, was part of the proceedings. And Rachel's extremely eloquent address to a mass audience was positively powerful; she was reported to be age 84 but seemed to somehow be younger and more dynamic than ever.
"It is my great hope that all of us will take this occasion to reflect on how far we've come as a nation and yet be certain that we collectively will struggle for all equal opportunities in all aspects of life," Rachel said on the field.
Reds 1, Cubs 0
Brady Quinn, former Notre Dame quarterback on his way to the NFL, sang the honorary song at Wrigley Field for the seventh-inning stretch, and began it: "All right, Chicago: This one's for Jackie! A one, a two . . ." That captured the spirit of the day. Jeff Conine singled in the lone run, and Ken Griffey Jr. had the only other hit for Cincinnati. That was the same Junior Griffey who came up with the idea to wear Robinson's No. 42 in tribute -- an act widely followed as the number was temporarily "unretired" for this anniversary recognition.
Griffey had six of the Jackie Jerseys in his locker before the game and said he intended to wear each of them during the game. "The first one will go to Rachel," said Griffey, who had last worn No. 42 on April 15, 1997 -- the 50th anniversary of Robinson's historical moment.
Indians 2, White Sox 1
No. 42 C.C. Sabathia picked up the win, his third of the season, with eight superb innings. No. 42 Jim Thome singled in the ninth to try to start a rally, and was replaced on the bases by No. 42 Alex Cintron, but early fantasy surprise Joe Borowski picked up his fifth save and the Indians somehow won with just one hit. Even more amazingly, it came on the very first at-bat of the day for Cleveland, a double by Grady Sizemore, who also wore No. 42.
"It meant a lot [to wear the number]," said Sabathia, who wasn't originally scheduled to pitch this day but had his turn shifted due to those earlier snow-outs. "I'm just excited I got a chance to pitch. To be able to pitch and play on this day was huge."
Cardinals 10, Brewers 2
It was interesting to see the entire St. Louis club wearing No. 42, and that included the sight of Albert Pujols hitting a three-run homer in the first inning. It was his first longball at home this season -- and then he went deep again in the eighth.
"I see it as an honor to an American," Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen said. "I don't look at it in baseball terms, necessarily. I think it's a guy that, as a person, as an American, did something great for this country. That's what I see. That to me is honorable, and I wanted to be a part of it."
The celebration in St. Louis featured a number of prominent figures. Sonya Pankey, Robinson's granddaughter, attended, as did Beth Louis, the granddaughter of Branch Rickey, and Johnny Sain's widow, Mary Ann Sain. Rickey was the man who signed Robinson to play for the Dodgers, while Sain was the first man to throw a pitch to Robinson in the Majors.
Rays 6, Twins 4
Torii Hunter not only wore No. 42, but he also ditched his low-rider pants and wore high black socks, just as Robinson did 60 years earlier. Hunter, one of only two African-American players on the Twins' roster (Rondell White is the other), said he thinks of Robinson whenever he hears a racial slur directed at himself -- and tries to imagine what Robinson must have endured every day as a player.
"If it wasn't for Jackie Robinson," Hunter said, "I wouldn't be here."
Carl Crawford, whose team rallied for two runs in the ninth off Twins closer Joe Nathan, wore a different No. 42 jersey every inning. The more "Jackie Jerseys" he contribute to the auction, the more money that can be raised for the Foundation. That was the spirit of this Sunday. Crawford said he was honored to wear the jersey number and called it "sacred."
"When I was growing up in Houston, I'd heard about Jackie Robinson, but I didn't know much about him," Crawford said. "I'm embarrassed that I don't know more about him. I've only seen one video about him, but even though everybody had heard of Jackie Robinson, nobody talked about him much when I was a kid. Now I realize he's up there with Martin Luther King, only from a sports standpoint."
Braves 8, Marlins 4
Dontrelle Willis didn't pitch, but he got the No. 42 jersey. And he said he plans to keep it forever.
"I've talked with my family about it. This is a little bit different. It may be in my will," Willis said. "This is monumental to me. This is a proud day for all African-Americans. It has more than just baseball, he was a humanitarian. You never know what time it would be, not just for African-Americans, but for Latins, that they could step on a field if it wasn't for him. There still might be Negro Leagues or whatever. This is a monumental day."
Andruw Jones wore No. 42 instead of his usual 25. He hit one of the homers that led to the Braves' victory, and said:
"I really don't know much about Jackie Robinson, but I know what he did for me to be here. That's why I'm honoring him today and give a special honor to him and his family for breaking the color barrier. I'm glad that I didn't grow up in that atmosphere and times [Robinson did] because I know how tough that was. I'm just happy I'm here right now and most of that stuff is behind. I appreciate all he did to make all this happen."
Blue Jays 2, Tigers 1
Four Jays players wore No. 42, including shortstop Royce Clayton, who doubled and scored the winning run in the bottom of the seventh. Clayton was one of the best stories of this day around Major League Baseball. He had been the first player to endow a scholarship for The Jackie Robinson Foundation, and said: "I grew up near Jackie Robinson Stadium at UCLA, and my mom educated me about the impact Jackie Robinson had. I told her I wanted to play baseball, and she said, 'This is the man that will give you that opportunity.' She gave me a couple of books to read, and it went from there."
"The big thing that stuck out for me," Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson said, "was the letter that they showed saying that they would kill him if he played. Just little stuff, to see how someone would have to go through all that stuff, knowing the threats that he got day in and day out. And not only to step on the field, but to play the way he did and get Rookie of the Year for the way he played, that was the big thing. That kind of hit home."
A's 5, Yankees 4
If you want to know how important Sunday was, just ask someone who has been around the game a while like Derek Jeter. He put a "4" digit in front of his usual "2" (Robinson Cano and manager Joe Torre also donned No. 42) and said this MLB-wide tribute would be one of his fondest memories of his career.
"I've never worn another number, obviously, but there have been times when you've had things on you that have meant a lot," Jeter said. "We've had tributes to players who have passed away and things like that, but this day is definitely memorable. It's something that means a lot and it's special."
Rivera is the lone player in the Majors who still wears No. 42 regularly -- a number that was retired across MLB after Rivera joined The Show. Maybe it was a bit ironic that the usually unflappable closer gave up that three-run bomb in the bottom of the ninth on this day, but the significance of the moment remained.
"You're not just talking about any player, or any person," Rivera said. "The respect that he had for the game. The passion that he had for the game. How he played the game. We should respect that and tribute that."
A video was shown at McAfee Coliseum before this game, and A's catcher Jason Kendall was one of many players giving their thoughts about Robinson's legacy. "It's definitely a special day," he said. "[This day] definitely needs to happen. When I was in high school, I always did book reports on Jackie Robinson, from eighth grade on up. It's definitely an exciting day. He played the game the right way -- with a lot of heart."
Mariners 14, Rangers 6
No, this was no ordinary day around baseball. It's not often a winning pitcher gives up five runs but only one of them earned. Horacio Ramirez did for Seattle. He had all the help he needed at the top of the Mariners' order; Ichiro was 4-for-5 and even hit his first homer of the season. In fact all three M's at the top of the order did that, combining to go 9-for-14 with 10 runs and 10 RBIs.
Beltre, a Dominican native, was wearing No. 42 and said, "I am proud to do that, even though I'm not African-American. I came up in the Dodgers organization and I know how much Jackie Robinson meant to that organization. I'm a Latino. I didn't go through anything close to what he went through, but it's an honor for me to wear No. 42."
Kenny Lofton said before the game in Seattle, "For me it means a guy who went through extreme lengths back in the 1940s to play the game of baseball and I don't know how he did it. I know how we are as people. When somebody fires words at you, you want to fire back. He didn't. That's tough. He put a whole culture of African-Americans on his back and played a sport he wanted to play no matter what it took."
Diamondbacks 6, Rockies 4
For all the remarkable memories produced by the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson Day, Tony Clark will have to be around the top of the list. He was among six Diamondbacks representatives who wore No. 42, he took out the lineup card along with Orlando Hudson, and he smashed two homers to lead Arizona to the victory at home. That is definitely a Jackie jersey sure to get a ton of bids.
"It's hard to express and without a doubt hard to comprehend the obstacles he had to overcome," Clark said of Robinson. "To think that he perservered despite threats to himself and threats to himself so that Tony Clark would have the opportunity to play this game is special and appreciated."
Rockies reliever LaTroy Hawkins wore No. 42 and spoke at length before the game about his real concern over the fact that the percentage of African-Americans playing in the Majors now is in single digits -- way down from a high of 27 percent in 1975.
"I can speak for one kid," Hawkins said. "I have a little cousin that plays baseball in Gary, Ind., Jay, and he's 13. And he loves the game. He'd rather be playing baseball than doing a lot of other things. He loves the game in a way you don't see in African-American kids today. His love is totally different.
"[But] everything about the game is too expensive, way too expensive, especially for the average income or the below-average income. If a family is making $30,000 a year, they're thinking, 'Maybe I'll pay this money to send my kid to a private school.'"
Six games involving five cities were all rained out, and clubs involved in those were told by MLB to pick a date to reschedule their JDR ceremonies. Those decisions were ongoing and the rescheduling information is available on those clubs' Web sites. The postponements included:
Nationals at Mets; Angels at Red Sox; Astros at Phillies; Royals at Orioles; and a doubleheader between the Giants and Pirates in Pittsburgh.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.