Jackie Robinson Day celebrated throughout majors

Updated: April 15, 2006, 10:43 PM ET
Associated Press

Fifty-nine years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, his widow was honored at Shea Stadium on Saturday, which was "Jackie Robinson Day" throughout the major leagues.

Rachel Robinson
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIRobinson's widow, Rachel, took part in the tributes to her late husband at Shea Stadium.

Following a video tribute to the former Brooklyn Dodgers star that was shown on the scoreboard, Rachel Robinson walked to the pitcher's mound before the New York Mets hosted the Milwaukee Brewers. She was accompanied by Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, and Mets manager Willie Randolph.

"I've got a picture of Jackie in my office, so I think about that every day," Randolph said. "I'm just happy to be a part of this day."

Randolph never met Robinson, who died in 1972 at age 53.

"He's one of those people you wish you could go have dinner with," Randolph said.

In Los Angeles, Robinson's daughter, Sharon, participated in a ceremony to honor her father before the Giants played the Dodgers.

During a ceremony at Shea Stadium on April 15, 1997, baseball commissioner Bud Selig retired Robinson's No. 42 for all major league teams. Two years ago, Selig decided "Jackie Robinson Day" would be an annual event each April 15.

A large blue, gray and white circle with "42" was put over home plate during Saturday's ceremony, which also was attended by former Negro Leagues players Robert Scott and Armando Vazquez.

A video tribute was also shown at Dodger Stadium, and Raymond Pounds, a junior at UCLA and one of 10 local Jackie Robinson scholars who took part in the ceremony, threw out the first pitch to Dodgers outfielder Kenny Lofton.

Don Newcombe, Robinson's longtime teammate in Brooklyn and currently the Dodgers' director of community relations, was also on hand.

"Jackie was and still is my idol," Newcombe said.

Former Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills recalled Robinson's big-league debut and how it inspired him.

"I heard all the black people buzzing about this man in Brooklyn named Jackie Robinson," said Wills, who was 14 and living in Washington, D.C. when Robinson played his first big-league game. "I asked who he was and they told me. Right then, I said, 'I want to play for the Dodgers someday.' That was my childhood dream."

Wills signed with the Dodgers in 1951, but played in the minor leagues until 1959 -- after the team had moved to Los Angeles.

"I still think of him often," Wills said of Robinson. "I play golf with Don Newcombe a lot, so I always quiz Newk about Jackie.

"When I became a professional, I wanted to be better than Jackie, so I used him as a model."

Giants star Barry Bonds said he was grateful for what Robinson went through, but added: "Ask somebody young -- African-American kids. The story would be asking these younger kids, seeing if they have any idea."

Dodgers rookie James Loney knows all about Robinson.

"He put a big mark in history -- he was the guy who started getting more people involved in baseball from all different nations," the 21-year-old first baseman said. "He's one of my heroes -- the courage he had, the willingness he had to fight through it. We're all fighting to work through something.

"I heard he played all different sports."

Robinson lettered in baseball, football, basketball and track and field at UCLA.

The Chicago White Sox remembered Robinson with a special tribute on the center-field scoreboard at U.S. Cellular Field that showed clips of his life and career interspersed with some shots of players from today's game.

Also shown was a note Robinson got threatening his life, and later his Hall of Fame induction.

Minutes after the video tribute ended, three Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars were honored and posed for pictures with White Sox outfielder Jermaine Dye and coaches Harold Baines and Tim Raines. One of the scholars, Judge Gardner, threw out a ceremonial first pitch before the White Sox faced the Toronto Blue Jays.

"I think Jackie Robinson made us a lot of money," Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said. "He opened doors for a lot of good things in baseball."

Guillen said Selig "should make all the players go to the Negro League museum in Kansas City" so they can see the sacrifices that were made by those players.

The Red Sox also showed a video before their game with the Seattle Mariners. It included shots of Robinson and Branch Rickey, Robinson sliding into home plate and Martin Luther King Jr. speaking.

Also before the game, seven Jackie Robinson scholars were introduced and stood behind the mound. On the mound, Stanford law professor William Gould IV threw out a ceremonial first pitch on one bounce to Jason Varitek. Gould is the great grandson of a slave who escaped captivity and served in the Civil War.

During the seventh inning stretch, "God Bless America" is to be sung by Michael Vinson, one of the Robinson scholars.

Prior to their game with the New York Yankees, the Twins honored three recipients of the Jackie Robinson Scholarship who currently attend the University of Minnesota.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press