Thursday, April 15, 2010

Jackie Robinson Day

It's been 63 years since Jackie Robinson made his major league debut, breaking the color barrier that had existed in major league baseball. To commemorate this important day in history, MLB has named today (and every April 15 for that matter) Jackie Robinson Day.

It was on this date in 1947 that Robinson donned his now famous number 42 and trotted out to second base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play in the majors. For the next ten seasons Robinson would continue to man second base for the Dodgers, named 1947 Rookie of the Year and 1949 National League MVP, making a total of six All-Star appearances, and compiling Hall of Fame statistics: .311 career batting average, 1,518 total base hits, 137 home runs, 734 runs batted in (RBI), and 197 stolen bases. These accomplishments alone earned him a place in baseball's Hall of Fame. What is really incredible is the fact that he managed to put up these hall of fame numbers while have to endure slurs, racial epitaphs, separation from teammates on the road, and even death threats in segregated America.

It was on this date in 1997 that Commissioner Bud Selig retired Robinson's number 42 throughout Major League Baseball and named April 15 "Jackie Robinson Day". The only number to be retired by all 30 teams, never again to be worn by another baseball player. (Today the only player allowed to wear this cherished number is Yankees' pitcher Mariano Rivera, due to the fact that it was the number that he wore when it was retired.) Never, that is, with the exception of every April 15.

It was on this date in 2004 that Selig added another element to Jackie Robinson Day. He had received a call from Cincinnati Reds' center fielder Ken Griffey, Jr. requesting permission to wear number 42 on this day in honor of Robinson. Selig took Griffey's request one step further by suggesting that ALL major league players wear Robinson's number for "Jackie Robinson Day".

This has since become a tradition. Every April 15, every major league baseball player, whether white or black, Latin or Asian, American or otherwise, dons the number 42. For many African American players, this is especially poignant. They understand that, if not for the trials that Robinson endured, they themselves may never have had the chance to be where they are today.

As I turn on my television this evening and settle in to watch an evening baseball game, I get chills when I see every player wearing that sacred number, the banners hanging from the outfield wall, and the opening acknowledgements of the significance of this day. I am proud to be a baseball fan.

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