Robinson debut 'most powerful moment'

At ballparks across the majors April 15, fans and players got to see and hear about the Hall of Famer's legacy as Baseball paused for Jackie Robinson Day, with video tributes, speeches and commemorative No. 42 signs honoring the man who broke the sport's color barrier. Starting this year, every April 15 will be celebrated as Jackie Robinson Day in the majors. His No. 42 was retired throughout baseball in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of the day he made his debut for the Dodgers.

"When you look back on the history of our game, Jackie Robinson coming into baseball — there's no question that April 15, 1947, was the most powerful moment in baseball history," Commissioner Bud Selig said at New York's Shea Stadium. "It transcended baseball. It was a precursor to the civil rights movement by 15 or 16 years," he said.

Robinson's widow, Rachel, was escorted onto the field by Selig and New York Mets center fielder Mike Cameron before the game against the Atlanta Braves.

Rachel Robinson spoke to the crowd, and her daughter, Sharon, took part in a first-pitch ceremony.

Rachel recalled those early days after Robinson started his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

"After the first few games, when black fans started to come to the games and rooted so hard and came up to him, he began to get the feeling of what his playing meant to people," she said. "Sharon and I know that a younger generation are beginning to discover Jackie Robinson. We're proud of all the progress," she said. "I also know in a very intense and passionate way that there's a lot that still needs to be done in baseball and in life."

The ceremony honoring Jackie Robinson at San Diego, at a game involving his former team, was marked with an appearance by one of his surviving teammates.

The Padres' salute included four half-inning breaks: a live welcome by Snider, one taped by Dodger Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully and Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman, one by Padres coach Davey Lopes and vice president Dave Winfield, and one by Padres players Kerry Robinson and Jay Payton.

Hall of Famer Duke Snider, now 78 and living in nearby Fallbrook, was on hand to reminisce about his fellow Hall of Famer and take part in the Padres' salute to Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947 with the Dodgers.

"This day is well deserved," said Snider. "I think he'd be very proud that there is a celebration all over the game. It's apropos. He was a tremendous teammate. I learned an awful lot from him about what it took to be a Major League ballplayer. My greatest memory of Jackie was seeing him walk in the clubhouse and putting on the uniform and his game face with it. You could see it in his eyes, that determination."

"Robinson's determination was evident on and off the field. No one can explain what Jackie went through that first year. They'd think you're exaggerating. He went through hell," said Snider. "He got it from fans, from opposing players. He got it heavy. Opposing pitchers would try to knock him down, first basemen stepped on him, just to get him out of the lineup. They knew he was a great player and he would help the Dodgers win a pennant."

New Dodger outfielder Milton Bradley said Robinson is one of the reasons he wears the Dodger uniform with pride. "What I've experienced is not even comparable to him, but there have been struggles and to think a guy going through that adversity could excel and become a legend is a test of character and who he was," said Bradley. "I appreciate his role in baseball and in life and it's appropriate that baseball recognizes it. You go into stadiums and see the No. 42 retired, it's something special."

Bradley says he has no trouble remembering the date Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, the 57th anniversary of which was celebrated around baseball Thursday. April 15 also happens to be Bradley's birthday.

"That's one of the things I think I'm most proud of," Bradley said. "I know when they announced the All-Century team (at the 1999 World Series), I watched the videotape, and that's when I realized what a great player Jackie Robinson was, all the things he did and everything he had to go through. I checked out some books on him, too. I think now, with his number being retired (throughout baseball), players today recognize what he did a lot more."

About 90 members of Robinson's family were on the field at Anaheim before the Angels played Seattle. Throwing out the first ball was Raymond Pound, the Jackie Robinson scholar from UCLA.

At Wrigley Field, managers Dusty Baker of the Chicago Cubs and Lloyd McClendon of the Pittsburgh Pirates spoke of what the day represented. Along with Montreal's Frank Robinson, they are the only three black managers in the majors.

"I don't necessarily have to hear his name or have a special day to recognize or respect what Jackie Robinson and other great minorities have done to pave the way for myself and others. I'm grateful every day," McClendon said. "Certainly generations of fans have changed, and knowledge slips away a little bit. But baseball has done a nice job. We ought to keep that up. We shouldn't forget the past. I think because of those struggles, we have a better game today."

Said Baker: "He changed -- not to sound smart -- he changed the complexion and the face of the game. If it wasn't for Jackie Robinson, I probably wouldn't be sitting here now. I'm very grateful and very thankful for what he went through."

Fans at Jacobs Field n Cleveland received a limited edition postcard of Robinson. Also, the Indians awarded two scholarships to local athletes in honor of the late Dodgers great.

At The Ballpark in Arlington, Bobby Bragan talked about what his former Brooklyn teammate - and the Dodgers executive who signed him - meant to the game.

"Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson to me, combined, made the greatest contribution of the 20th century other than Billy Graham," said Bragan, 86. "We traveled by train back then and on the first road trip, a few of us didn't want to sit with Jackie in the dining car. But on the second trip, we were fighting to be the ones to sit with him. He turned us around like that.

LA Dodgers Insider Top Stories