LOS ANGELES (AP)Baseball celebrated the 75th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson broke the major league color barrier on Friday with an appreciation of his trailblazing life and an evaluation of how much farther the sport still must go.
Every player, coach and umpire on a major league field wore Robinson’s No. 42, as they have since 2009 on every April 15 – now known as Jackie Robinson Day.
But for the first time, everyone wore the numerals in the famed Dodger blue to highlight this milestone anniversary of the day Robinson first took the field with the Dodgers at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field in 1947.
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts believes the day is an important vehicle to raise awareness and to continue to shape attitudes in the sport and beyond.
”Jackie was all about looking out and looking forward,” said Roberts, who became the second Black manager to win the World Series in 2020. ”So to appreciate how far we’ve come is certainly fair, but more important is where we need to go. That’s what pushes and challenges all of us to keep getting better and to make change. … What Jackie did was incredible, but we’ve got to keep going.”
Four hours before the Dodgers’ game against Cincinnati, Roberts led his players out to the park behind the outfield bleachers at Dodger Stadium to the plaza where a statue of Robinson has stood since 2017. The Dodgers gathered around and listened to remarks from Robinson’s son, David, who encouraged everyone to take constant stock of the U.S.’ progression on education and equality.
”Baseball, it’s bigger than us individually,” Roberts said. ”So we all have a platform, an opportunity, a responsibility, as David said today, which is great.”
In a pregame ceremony at Chavez Ravine, former major leaguers Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson greeted and honored Rachel Robinson, the 99-year-old widow of the baseball great. Rachel Robinson waved and smiled at the crowd’s several hearty ovations.
The day is particularly special at Dodger Stadium, where Robinson’s memory never fades. Robinson grew up in Pasadena, 10 miles from the site of the Dodgers’ future home, and the park is festooned with his image and iconography.
”Growing up in the Dodgers organization, we made sure we knew what he means,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who spent his first seven seasons with the Dodgers as a player. ”To be part of this, it’s a special day. I think they got it right, wearing Dodger blue for one day. . He changed the world, right? And we don’t live in a perfect world, still.
April 15 has become a day to reflect on Robinson’s legacy across the sport. Roberts and his fellow baseball leaders use Jackie Robinson Day to spotlight the perpetual fight toward equality for all races while embracing the sport’s importance in driving social change.
”It seems to get bigger and bigger as we go along, and rightly so,” San Diego manager Bob Melvin said. ”The ultimate trailblazer in this game, and everybody’s proud to wear that number beyond belief now. I think it educates people the more we do this, every year, understanding of what he went through and what he’s meant to this game. This has become one of the real, real special days in the course of the baseball season.”
”For him to do what he did, I can’t even imagine. I can’t imagine how he felt, how he went (through it). The fact that he persevered, he put us in this spot. We have a better world because of Jackie Robinson, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Roberts said the work includes boosting the sport among Black athletes. Both Roberts and Houston manager Dusty Baker decried the shrinking of the player draft and the minor leagues, saying those cost-saving moves decrease opportunities for players of color – like Roberts and Baker themselves, who were both later-round draft picks a generation apart.
Baker has saved every Jackie Robinson Day jersey from his remarkable managing career. He is disappointed to see fewer Black players in the game, although he knows many factors contribute to the decline, not all race-related.
”You can go on one hand where before it was two or three hands,” Baker said of the paucity of star Black players. ”It was a different time, a different era. Seems like things are actually more accepted then. We’ve made a lot of progress in some areas, and (in) other areas we haven’t made that much progress. So now we need to regress to have some progress. And we’ve already regressed to me enough, so it’s time for some progress.”
Before their home opener at Citi Field, the Mets unveiled a long-awaited statue of Tom Seaver a few steps from the ornate Jackie Robinson Rotunda that serves as the ballpark’s main entrance. Robinson Cano, named for the former Dodgers great, homered in a 10-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Cano and teammate Francisco Lindor, who went deep from both sides of the plate, wore special cleats for Jackie Robinson Day.
”Always special. He’s one of the reasons that I’m here,” Lindor said. ”Courage, excellence and commitment to the game of baseball.”
Cano, who sat out last season while serving his second suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, was asked if it was especially meaningful to connect on Jackie Robinson Day.
”For sure. This is the day that myself and everybody is always going to remember,” he said. ”You do something special on that day.”
The first 25,000 fans received a Brooklyn Dodgers Jackie Robinson T-shirt, and Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars went down the handshake line with Mets players on the field during pregame introductions. Robinson’s granddaughter did the same, and pregame ceremonies included a recorded message from his son, David, and the 75th anniversary logo displayed on the large video board in center field.
AP Sports Writers Mike Fitzpatrick, Kyle Hightower, Tim Booth and Bernie Wilson contributed to this report.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports