Behind The Scoreboard

The legacy of Robinson (42)

(Please note this article was written in part from research on the Internet)

Brooklyn Dodgers Manager Branch Rickey was determined to integrate Major League Baseball during a period immediately following World War II.

Rickey sent his scouts to Negro League games to find the best players. Rickey instructed his scouts to look not only at playing ability but also at players’ maturity and the capacity to withstand the hostility that was sure to be directed at the first black player in the Major Leagues.

Jackie Robinson came to Rickey’s attention for his skills on the field and his personal background, too. Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson were by far more prominent than Robinson at the time, but Rickey decided to pass them over. Mainly because Rickey was concerned about Paige’s age and Gibson’s mental stability. (Robinson was an up and coming player on Paige’s team, the Kansas City Monarchs).

Rickey made history by signing Robinson to the first contract between a black man and a Major League Baseball franchise. And of course, this caused tension between Robinson and his two friends (Paige and Gibson) at first. But that was later reconciled after Paige asked for Robinson’s help to get Gibson released from a mental hospital so the three of them could play in the annual exhibition game between the All-star of the Major Leagues and the Negro League. The game was rained out, but Paige and Gibson seemed to have come to terms to Robinson being signed ahead of them.

Last Saturday, April 15, all of the teams around Major League Baseball celebrated “Jackie Robinson Day.”

Since 2004, the League has paid homage to the Hall of Famer who broke baseball’s color barrier as the first African-American player in Major League Baseball in 1947. This date marked the 70th anniversary of Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers – today known as the Los Angeles Dodgers.

And every since 2009, on that one day, all players, coaches and managers, on both teams, and the umpires, wear the Number 42 on their jerseys.

During Saturday’s game, former Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully, on all players wearing Number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson: “What does the 42 mean? It doesn’t mean they are all equal, not in the same respect. Some are tall, some are heavier than others, some are left-handed, and some are right-handed. 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. Those were the two things that many of them never had to hold to their hearts when they first started play. Yes, 42 is a great number; it means a lot for a great man, but it is a tremendous number when you think of the man who wore it with such dignity, with such pride, and with such great discipline.”

Twenty years ago, a baseball game came to a standstill; a moment froze in time at Shea Stadium. And yes, it was April 15 in 1997.

Rachel Robinson, wife of the late great Jackie Robinson; Bud Selig, commissioner of baseball; and William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton, president of the United States; walked on the grass turf at Shea Stadium. They were there to do something that had never been done before – to retire a number, Jackie Robinson’s 42, across an entire sport. And to do their part to ensure the power of Robinson’s major league debut, 50 years earlier to the day, would keep resonating through history.

Last Saturday, the Dodgers honored the legacy of Jackie Robinson. The Dodgers debut an eight-foot, 800-pound bronze sculpture of the Hall of Famer (who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962) in a special ceremony preceding their game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. By the way, the Dodgers won 8-4. The statue will permanently reside in the left field plaza that serves as the most popular portal to the ballpark at Dodger Stadium.

A famous quote from Jackie Robinson – “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

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