On this day, Robinson remembered
Anniversary celebration honors contributions of former Dodger
LOS ANGELES -- Sixty years ago in his first Major League game, Jackie Robinson scored the winning run in the Brooklyn Dodgers' victory over the Boston Braves. And on this Sunday, everyone was a winner.During the 60th anniversary celebration at Dodger Stadium of Robinson shattering Major League Baseball's then 58-year-old color barrier, the Hall of Famer was remembered for his political and artistic contributions to the game he helped irrevocably change. "Oh Happy Day," Jackie's widow, Rachel Robinson, told the sold out crowd, quoting the title of the couple's favorite song. And then the contemporary Dodgers took the field, each wearing his famous No. 42 and mirroring the sentiments echoed in other Major League ballparks on Sunday. The number was retired throughout baseball in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of Robinson's magnificent feat. Six games were rained out elsewhere, but each home team was given the option by MLB of re-scheduling their Jackie Robinson Day activities. The Mets, who were washed out at Shea Stadium against the Nationals, immediately announced that they would honor Robinson before Friday night's home game against the Braves. At Dodger Stadium, Commissioner Bud Selig introduced Mrs. Robinson, Jackie's seemingly ageless widow and the founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which awards partial college scholarships to underprivileged kids. As he had earlier in the day, Selig presented her with the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award in honor of her contributions to society and the sport. "[Jackie] forever changed the social course of our nation [that day]," MLB's ninth Commissioner said standing at a podium in front of the pitcher's mound. "He ended that disgraceful practice of segregation that existed in Major League Baseball." The Dodgers defeated the Boston Braves, 5-3, on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field and the grand old game was never the same. Robinson went 0-for-4, but he was on second base in the seventh inning courtesy of a Boston error when teammate Pete Reiser drove him in with a double to score the run that put Brooklyn up to stay. It was the first of 125 he would score that year and 947 in his career. He went on to be named the National League's Rookie of the Year that season, was named the league MVP two years later and ultimately was honored as a six-time All-Star. After his 10-year career had ended, Robinson was the first African-American elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 -- the first year he was on the ballot. During his tenure the Dodgers won six NL pennants, could have won two others -- they lost on the final day of the 1950 and '51 regular seasons -- and won the 1955 World Series.
Ten years after his Hall of Fame induction, Robinson passed away at 53 years old. By then, he was nearly blind and his body ravaged, the results of a long-term battle with adult onset diabetes.In 1973, his widow incorporated the foundation and began the fight to keep the memory of her late husband alive. Sunday's events were a clear example of how successful she has been at that endeavor. "We should use this occasion to reflect on how far we've come as a nation," said Mrs. Robinson, the first woman among the 10 individuals and one team to receive a prestigious award that was established by Selig in 1998. "But we must continue to collectively struggle for equal opportunity in all aspects of our lives." The ceremony was a star-studded event replete with an Episcopal Church Choir singing a re-adapted lyric of "Oh Happy Day." Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson sang the National Anthem as fireworks were set off around her and Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson threw out the first pitches, both bouncing theirs toward the plate. Robinson, MLB's first black manager with the Indians in 1975, threw his pitch to the Dodgers' Juan Pierre. Hank Aaron, MLB's all-time home run leader with 755, tossed his to Mike Cameron, the only Padres player to wear Jackie's old number. "This guy sacrificed so much," said Cameron, explaining his decision to wear for a day the only number retired throughout baseball. "He laid the groundwork and opened so many doors for me to get a chance to go out there and get an opportunity to showcase my talent and help my ballclub." The idea of wearing No. 42 in honor of Robinson was the brainchild of Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr., who personally petitioned the Commissioner for the opportunity and also wore the number to honor Robinson in 1997. The No. 42 jerseys will all be auctioned off via MLB.com with the proceeds going to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. "And that's where the money should be going," Selig said. Cubs Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks was there. So was Dave Winfield, the Hall of Fame outfielder who predominately played for the Padres and Yankees. But Don Newcombe, now a member of the Dodgers' community relations department, was the only former Brooklyn teammate of Robinson's in attendance. Tommy Lasorda, a Hall of Fame Dodgers manager who also played with Robinson, was in New York at another awards function. Like Robinson, Newcombe was signed in 1946, but he didn't join him in the big leagues until 1949. He's the only player in history to win the big three awards in his career: NL Rookie of the Year (in 1949), NL MVP and Cy Young Award (both in 1956) -- the latter coming at a time when only one pitcher from both leagues was so honored. "We started a movement," said Newcombe, now 80, on teaming with Robinson. "But I'd like to say that we did our jobs."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.