04/15/09 10:00 PM ET
Griffey applauds tribute to Robinson
Grateful star first wore No. 42 in Mariners game in 1997
By Jim Street / MLB.com
For the first time since Major League Baseball began honoring the legacy of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier on April 15, 1947, every MLB player on Wednesday night did what Griffey did on April 15, 1997 -- wore No. 42.Robinson's number had not yet been retired when Griffey decided to flip-flop his own No. 24. "Teams were going to turn back the clock 50 years and celebrate Jackie Robinson," Griffey recalled. He received permission from Commissioner Bud Selig to wear No. 42. It was his way of paying tribute to the baseball trailblazer. "I knew the [Robinson] family and it was my way of saying thank you," Griffey said. "That was pretty much my way of giving back. I had no idea it would turn into something like this. I think the guys who have been around me know I don't like to draw attention to myself, but do little subtle things here and there. "There are a lot of people who would not have been [in the Major Leagues] if it wasn't for him." Griffey went 2-for-4 in that night's game against the Indians in Cleveland, drove in a run and scored two runs in Seattle's 8-4 victory. He and teammate Lee Tinsley, now the Mariners' first-base coach, wore their uniform pants at their knees, the same style of Robinson and the other big leaguers. "You never know how it would have been if he had failed," Griffey added. Griffey said he received an education on Robinson and other African-American players that were not allowed to play in the Major Leagues from the likes of Joe Black and Willie Mays. "When I got into pro ball, Willie Mays would take me off the side and talk about it," Griffey said. "I had Joe Black, Brooks Lawrence, Chuck Harmon Sr. -- good friends of my dad -- who thought I should know a little about baseball history and they proceeded to drill me on certain things, more like a grandfather telling his grandson a story. "That's how I learned about barnstorming days and learned how different people can be for no reason." It is those stories that make every April 15 so special for Griffey, and so many other big league players -- black, white, Latin or Japanese. The Mariners have had 18 players wear No. 42, but no one has worn it in a game (other than 2006 and '07 on Jackie Robinson Day) since 1999 when Butch Huskey appeared in 74 games. Major League Baseball officially retired No. 42 on April 15, 1997. The Mariners who have worn that number are: Tom Brown (1978), Dave Henderson (1981-86), John Christensen (1987), Omar Vizquel (1989), Vance Lovelace (1990), Kerry Woodson (1992), Ted Power (1993), Roger Salkeld (1993), Jim Mecir (1995), Mike Jackson (1996), Griffey Jr. (1997, one game) and Huskey. Four players -- Miguel Batista, Adrian Beltre, Arthur Rhodes and Yuniesky Betancourt -- along with former manager John McLaren wore No. 42 last season. One Mariners jersey from Wednesday night's game will be signed by the players and auctioned off on MLB.com with the proceeds benefiting the Jackie Robinson Foundation. This year, the Foundation is providing support to 279 Scholars at 106 colleges and universities in 34 states. As part of Wednesday's celebration, Kimberly Brown, a New Jersey native who attended Yale University, where she majored in American Studies with a concentration in Urban Studies, was honored for her academic and community service achievements. She graduated with distinction in her major. She currently serves as assistant director of The First Tee of Greater Seattle, a nonprofit organization that provides learning facilities and educational programs that promote character-development and life-enhancing values through the game of golf to more than 1,000 Seattle children annually. During her time at Yale, Brown was a two-year member of the varsity women's golf team, coordinated creative writing workshops for 50 fifth grade students at Worthington Hooker Elementary School in New Haven, Conn., and assisted in publishing these pieces in the literacy magazine, Splatter! Her love for young people led her to get involved in Visions of Virtue, a mentoring program for at-risk teenage girls. She also was an active member of the executive board of the Yale Gospel Choir, serving as publicity manager and Web master. In addition, Brown spent summers interning with Black Enterprise Magazine and Dun & Bradstreet. Immediately following graduation, she became a fellow in Leadership in Service with the United States Golf Association (USGA) Foundation. As a fellow, Brown managed $1.2 million in grant activity in seven Western States. In addition to providing support to USGA-supported programs, Brown also coordinated a number of outreach efforts including a junior golf program for the students of the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind.
Also featured in the pregame ceremonies, former Mariners great Edgar Martinez and Branded Solutions by Edgar Martinez received the Mariners' first Jackie Robinson Award as the Most Valuable Diverse Business Partner. Branded Solutions is being recognized for their sound business practices, excellent service and quality products. Martinez received an etched crystal award.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.