Jackie Robinson Day celebrated in space
Jackie Robinson Day was celebrated again this year. It was even celebrated in space.
Robinson was a special person and athlete. It's hard to believe today, but no African American was allowed to play Major League Baseball before Robinson.
That changed in 1947. Robinson was selected by the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers to be the man to break the color barrier. It was among the most important moments of the 20th century in America.
This year, April 15 marked the 68th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier. The Dodgers play in Los Angeles now. The team announced it will erect a statue of him at their ballpark.
Rachel Robinson, the player's 92-year-old widow, and Commissioner Rob Manfred took part in a ceremony at Dodger Stadium. The ceremony was in conjunction with the annual Civil Rights Game.
Meanwhile, astronaut Terry Virts wore a Dodgers jersey with Robinson's No. 42 along with a Brooklyn cap. He was at the International Space Station. The astronaut was orbiting the Earth. When Robinson first played a game for the Dodgers, no one could even imagine that humans would orbit the Earth.
"I can remember reading a book about Jackie when I was in the first grade," Virts said in a video posted on MLB.com. "Jackie, alongside his wife Rachel, opened up a world of opportunities that had been closed to so many Americans simply because of the color of their skin. What he did took courage. A lot of courage. He had to endure things that most of us could not imagine. And he had to do it while maintaining composure that most of us couldn't begin to muster."
Robinson's No. 42 was retired throughout the major leagues in 1997. Players already using the number were allowed to continue to wear it. Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera was the last player to don the number. That was in 2013. In 2005, it was decided that all MLB teams would honor Robinson each April 15. Every player, manager and coach on the field wears No. 42 on the date. The number 42 has also been painted in every big league ballpark.
"Jackie is the most historic figure who ever played the game. So it's fitting that we honor his legacy by adding the Civil Rights Game on the same day as Jackie Robinson Day," Manfred said.
Manfred and Rachel Robinson spoke prior to a Dodgers game. It was announced that a statue of Robinson will be erected and placed on the stadium's grounds. That will happen sometime this year. The location has yet to be determined.
"It's a true blessing for me to sit here with Rachel and understand what her husband has meant to changing society, changing the world and changing baseball," said Magic Johnson, who today is one of the Dodgers owners. His eyes were glistening. "I feel like he's still here his presence, his legacy."
Rachel Robinson's children also were on hand. Rachel was escorted to the pitcher's mound by Sandy Koufax. He is a Hall of Fame pitcher. A video presentation was shown on the scoreboards. A No. 42 was stenciled on the back slope of the mound and behind second base. That was Robinson's position.
Most fans wore Dodgers jerseys with Robinson's number on the back. The jerseys were distributed when fans entered the ballpark.
Robinson was a six-time All-Star. In 1947, he was the major league Rookie of the Year. He was the National League's most valuable player in 1949. That year, he also won the league's batting title. That meant he had the highest batting average. At the time, the Dodgers played in Brooklyn. It's a borough of New York City. Robinson died in 1972.
"Jackie was the only black man that I knew of at that time who could have done the job that he did and do it with the pride that he did it," former teammate Don Newcombe said. "That's why he was so respected." Newcombe said Martin Luther King told him civil rights advancement would not have been as successful without black players on the baseball field.
In New York, Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson wore special spikes. They had Robinson's No. 42 on the side.
Opening-day major league baseball rosters included 8.3 percent of players who identified as African-American. That is according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. It was a slight increase from 8.2 last year.
"We all recognize that there's a tremendous amount of athletes that are migrating to football and basketball," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Create more space in the inner cities is one possible way to do it."
Critical thinking challenge: What is meant by the phrase breaking the major league color barrier?