Jackie's legacy to be honored across baseball
Though delayed a day by rain, Yanks unveiling Mandela plaque as part of celebration
NEW YORK -- The 67th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers will be celebrated as usual throughout baseball with ceremonies from Vero Beach, Fla., today to Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.
The main event, originally scheduled for today but postponed, as was a scheduled game, by rain, will be staged in the Bronx prior to an Interleague game between the Cubs and the Yankees on Wednesday. Robinson's wife, Rachel, daughter Sharon, Commissioner Bud Selig and members of the Steinbrenner family are scheduled to be in attendance.
The Yankees announced Sunday that the club will unveil a plaque for late South African president Nelson Mandela in Monument Park as part of the pregame festivities, in a ceremony that will be streamed live on MLB.com and Yankees.com prior to the scheduled 7 p.m. ET game. The man who helped end the practice of apartheid in his country died last year.
"It's one of the great days we celebrate during any season," Red Sox manager John Farrell said Sunday before his club concluded its four-game series against the Yankees. "The challenges he went through? All personally I can do is read about them. I have no idea the challenges he faced and the strength he demonstrated every day that he walked on the field."
Robinson's "legacy lives on," Rachel Robinson said about her husband, who passed away at just 53 in 1972.
And no current player has had more impact on that legacy than Derek Jeter, the Yankees' shortstop and captain, who has long underwritten a scholarship to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which according to its own mission statement was "founded in 1973 as a vehicle to perpetuate the memory of Jackie Robinson through the advancement of higher education among underserved populations."
It's only apropos, then, that the Yankees are playing host to the main event this year in this, the final season of Jeter's illustrious career.
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"It's a wonderful thing that they have Jackie Robinson Day. That goes without saying," Jeter said. "I've enjoyed getting to know his family over the years. I first met his wife that first year at the Baseball Writers' dinner in 1996. I've gotten to know her well, same thing with her daughter. We all look forward to having that game when we all get to wear that No. 42 and honor him."
Robinson jogged out to play first base at Ebbets Field against the Boston Braves that day in 1947, shattering Major League Baseball's decades-old color barrier, and the sport was irrevocably changed.
In 1997, under Selig's direction, Robinson's uniform No. 42 was retired across all of Major League Baseball in an unprecedented tribute. All uniformed personnel will again wear that number for the 14 Major League games scheduled throughout the nation tonight and the Cubs-Yankees game on Wednesday.
"The fact that we retire that number throughout the game is worthy to say the least," Farrell said.
In midtown Manhattan, MLB opened the week with its annual Diversity Business Summit, which includes a job fair and two days of various discussions. Yankees president Randy Levine made the introductory address Monday morning and Selig, in his final year as Commissioner, is to deliver the keynote speech today before heading out to the ballpark.
"Jackie Robinson is an American icon whose accomplishments and leadership continue to inspire us in baseball and our society at large," Selig said. "Major League Baseball proudly celebrates his enduring legacy, which is reflected by extraordinary on-field diversity of players from all backgrounds, enthusiastic participation in youth baseball and softball, and proven results in diverse business efforts."
"I am quite proud that when Jack stepped onto the field on April 15, 1947, and broke the color barrier in baseball, he helped to further social change in America," said Rachel Robinson. "On behalf of our family and the Jackie Robinson Foundation, we are thrilled that Major League Baseball continues to honor him and works to ensure that what he stood for will not be forgotten by future generations."
With the retirement of Yankees epic closer Mariano Rivera at the end of last season, this is the first time the No. 42 is no longer active anywhere in baseball, and it never again will be. Rivera was among the active players wearing the number who were grandfathered in when Selig retired the famous number, and he wore it proudly his entire career.
"For myself, it's just great to be wearing a Major League uniform when we recognize someone who wore it so meaningfully," said Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, the reigning National League MVP. "When you think about the things he had to overcome to pave the road for players like myself ... the appreciation of that never changes."
Jeter said it will be a little strange that Rivera won't be out there wearing the famous No. 42, which has been retired again by the Yankees in Rivera's honor.
"I don't know, we've been playing all spring already without Mo," Jeter said. "We've already sort of gotten used him not being here. It's probably a little different for me than a lot of guys. I've always played with him."
The annual celebration of Robinson's life and impact will once again be widespread. Here's a sampling:
In Cincinnati, prior to the Reds-Pirates game at Great American Ball Park, former Reds player Chuck Harmon will be honored as the 2014 recipient of the Powel Crosley Jr. Award for his "dedication, devotion and service" to the Reds. Harmon was the first African-American to play for the Reds 60 years ago on April 7, 1954.
In Minneapolis, where the Twins will play the Blue Jays, the Twins will present Celebrate Diversity Day in tribute to Robinson. The pregame festivities at Target Field will include a lineup of musical and cultural performances. In addition, Jackie Robinson essay winners will be presented with awards during a pregame ceremony.
In Chicago, during the hours before the White Sox-Red Sox game, a special panel discussion titled "Jackie Robinson: A Catalyst for Change in American Society" will be hosted by the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and historian Carol Adams will share their views and perspective on Robinson as an agent in baseball and American society.
In San Diego, before the Padres play the Rockies at Petco Park, the home club will host 42 youngsters from the local Jackie Robinson YMCA. They will align on the field along the first-base line wearing Padres No. 42 jerseys, while on the third-base line members of the Padres' RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) leagues will take their places.
"The barrier [Robinson] broke in baseball transcends the world, really," Padres closer Huston Street said. "What he stood for, the example he set, what he stood for as a human being. He made it better for everybody and taught us. He deserves recognition."
In Phoenix, the D-backs will recognize an Arizona Jackie Robinson Foundation scholar, Lucia Carbajal, and MLB All-Star Arizona Diamondbacks Branch Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year, Edreyse Sharkey, during a special pregame ceremony. The club will contribute $4,200 -- in honor of Robinson's No. 42 -- to both the Jackie Robinson Foundation and the local Boys & Girls Club.
Even in Vero Beach, where the Dodgers made their Spring Training home from 1949-2008, Robinson will be honored during a Florida State League game between Lakeland and Brevard County. Admission is $5 and the proceeds will be donated to the United Way of Indian County.
But the biggest deal will be at Yankee Stadium.
"Obviously, Jackie has meant a great deal to all of us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He meant a lot to Mo in wearing that number and the way Mo wore that number with such a lot of pride. Derek has been very involved. It means a lot for Derek to play on those days and be a part of that."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.