Remembering Robinson, so others won't forget 50 years later, baseball honors fall of color line to keep his legacy alive

March 30, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Every baseball player in the major and minor leagues will wear a sleeve patch to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the year Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line and opened the game to black players.

Every major-league team will do something to recognize the significance of the event.

Boston Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn -- who has worn Robinson's No. 42 on his back since he broke into the majors six years ago -- doesn't think it will be nearly enough.

"It's something that shouldn't come up once every 50 years," Vaughn said. "It's something we should remember every year. I think there should be a national holiday."

Interim commissioner Bud Selig agrees that baseball can't do enough to commemorate Robinson, but he hopes that what is being done this year will help imprint the importance of racial tolerance and equality on a new generation of baseball fans.

"I agree with Mo Vaughn," he said. "Having lived through that period -- though I was only 13 when Jackie Robinson played his first major-league game -- I regard it as baseball's proudest moment. We can't do enough. Should it [the integration of baseball] have happened 40 years sooner? Yes. Have we done enough since then? No. But everybody should understand the legacy of Jackie Robinson."

Vaughn knows what Jackie Robinson did for him, and for every other black athlete who stepped through the hole Robinson punched in the racist status quo when he took the field for the first time with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, but he isn't sure that every black player understands the magnitude of that accomplishment.

"Not enough do," Vaughn said. "I think he has to be recognized for integrating not only baseball, but all sports. He opened the way for everything. That should be in all the history books, not just the black history books. All kids, no matter what color you are, should understand that he did something that brought the races together, though there still is a long way to go."

Maybe the 50th-anniversary celebration will be another small step in that direction.

The commemorative patch will be worn at every Major League Baseball-sanctioned game at every level of professional baseball in the United States; Major League Productions has produced a video on Robinson's life that will be shown at every major-league ballpark in April; and Rawlings has produced a commemorative Jackie Robinson baseball that will be used at every major-league stadium on Opening Day.

There also are expected to be local tributes at every big-league ballpark.

The Dodgers, the franchise that shook the sports world when club president Branch Rickey decided to break baseball's color barrier, are commemorating that event in a number of ways, including a Jackie Robinson Day celebration on April 5. There will be an on-field ceremony honoring Robinson and a presentation to his widow, Rachel, as well as a commemorative gift to every fan in attendance.

In addition, the Museum of Tolerance -- part of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center -- will unveil a large exhibit on Robinson and is preparing a traveling exhibit that will stop at major-league ballparks throughout the country.

The Orioles are planning a series of events commemorating Robinson's arrival in the major leagues, though the schedule has not yet been made public. The club also will use an on-deck circle featuring the Robinson logo, and several players are planning personal tributes.

New reserve catcher Lenny Webster has requested to wear No. 42 in Robinson's honor. He has worn No. 46 but will get the new number from Orioles instructor Mike Flanagan in time for Opening Day.

Relief pitcher Alan Mills has arranged to buy tickets for inner-city kids in Robinson's honor, and he plans to distribute them through the Orioles/Baltimore Baseball League during the season.

No doubt, more and more players around the league will get into the spirit of the occasion as the anniversary of Robinson's first major-league game draws near.

Can they do enough? Maybe not, but the fact that they remember is the important thing.

Honoring Robinson

Here's a partial list of the events and activities planned by Major League Baseball to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's barrier-breaking first season in the major leagues:

The 1997 season has been dedicated to the memory of Jackie Robinson.

Major-league players and umpires, minor-league players and participants in the RBI (Returning Baseball to the Inner City) youth program will wear a commemorative uniform patch.

Commemorative baseballs will be used in all major-league games on Opening Day.

MLB is organizing a national fund-raising event and will participate in various cross-licensing and sponsorship activities to benefit the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

The Smithsonian Institution and Major League Baseball will present a four-part lecture series April 21 to May 12 on the impact of Robinson's legacy.

There will be a tribute to Larry Doby, the American League's first black player, at the All-Star Game in Cleveland.

Spike Lee has created some institutional broadcast spots that will be made available for in-stadium use and baseball's broadcast partners.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum will sponsor a number of events honoring Robinson, including an exhibit titled "The African-American Baseball Experience" and a national essay contest for high school students.

Local tributes also are expected at every major-league ballpark. The Orioles will unveil an on-deck circle bearing the 50th anniversary logo and also are planning a series of commemorative events throughout the season.

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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