This may be just another baseball game but not just another day on the baseball calendar.
Each April 15, Major League baseball puts aside the day for a special acknowledgement and recognition. Sure, all the accolades have been paid and tributes poured in for years but the appreciation remains enduring.
This is the time set aside to remember, recall and cherish the contributions Jackie Robinson made to both baseball and the culture he so much he tried to embrace. Though his achievements on the baseball diamond were significant and well-documented, from rookie-of-the-year honors in 1947 to world championships and all-star appearances, the stature of Robinson remains his greatest asset.
The way Robinson endured the temper of the times and parlayed social conditions into a august form of tolerance and patience that many cannot understand.
“It’s incomprehensible what he went through,” said D-backs manager Kirk Gibson prior to Tuesday’s game with the Mets. “He stood up for all of us and now enables us to make situations better.”
Though he not the first African-American to play in a major league game, Robinson was the first in the modern era and in a social climate which had little tolerance for anything considered as “change,” or transformation of any societal norm. The dark shadow of Jim Crowism was a powerful and dividing force in American life at mid-20th century and helped push abuse and intolerance to an absolute limit.
“What Jackie did was significant,” said Mets’ outfielder Eric Young, Jr., an African-American who has played parts of the last six seasons in the major leagues. “He gave me an opportunity to play and without him, I may not have that opportunity. Look, this is a great game and everyone associated with the game is important. No matter what your skin color or anything else, Jackie helped us realize our dream.”
Signed by Dodgers’ general manager Branch Rickey and assigned first to Triple A Montreal, Robinson made his major debut with Brooklyn on April 15, 1947 at the age of 28. More than half the announced crowd of 26,623 in Ebbets Field that day were African-American and eventually support for his efforts, on and off the baseball field, were generated from all segments of American life. Though his career was storied and replete with individual and team awards, Robinson’s humility, perseverance and humanity remain an absolute legacy.
“I started in the Dodgers’ organization, and knew guys who played with Jackie,” said Terry Collins, the Mets manager. “I never, ever, never heard one negative thing about Jackie. He was so professional and so human. It is a great honor to honor this vital and courageous man.”
Since 2009, all players, managers, coaches and umpires associated with games played on April 15 all wear number 42.
Some have called for the number 21 (for Roberto Clemente) be retired as well but that drive has been rejected.
Well it should because Robinson’s legacy needs to be understood and appreciated in the singular.