Today is the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier and helping to usher in a more enlightened era of fairness in America. Major League Baseball is celebrating Jackie Robinson Day for the 9th time, with on-field ceremonies before today's games while all players and coaches are wearing Jackie's no. 42 in his honor.
April 15 was dedicated as Jackie Robinson Day in 2004, to honor the anniversary of Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. His number has been retired league-wide since 1997, but starting in 2009, Major League Baseball has requested that all on-field personnel don that special jersey for one day.
... "When Jackie Robinson took the field in Brooklyn 65 years ago, he transcended the sport he loved and helped change our country in the most powerful way imaginable," Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig said.
"It is a privilege for Major League Baseball to celebrate Jackie's enduring legacy each year, and we are proud that every April 15th, our young fans around the world have an opportunity to learn everything that the No. 42 stands for -- courage, grace and determination."
And we are proud that we can claim Jackie as one of our own not just as an American icon, but as a UCLA Bruin. But no matter how you claim his spirit, Jackie's day has not gotten old for the players, as Juan Pierre told MLB.com.
Morgan Center has issued a release commemorating the anniversary through the official site.
"It's still one of my favorite days on the calendar of the baseball year," Pierre said. "Just the person he was, man. It's the reason we still celebrate him -- not because of what he did on the baseball field, because of the kind of man he was. I still get excited every [year] and get geared up for it."
"Jackie Robinson is among UCLA's most distinguished alumni," UCLA Director of Athletics Dan Guerrero said. "As the player who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier, Jackie displayed the courage, character, work ethic and talent that helped transform both his life and the lives of the thousands of individuals who have since chosen to follow in his footsteps. He is the epitome of the optimistic and trailblazing attitude that characterizes the can-do culture that we all espouse at UCLA."
"Jackie Robinson left an indelible mark on our university and our nation," head coach John Savage said. "It's with the utmost pride and humility that our baseball program is able to play at a ballpark named in his honor. He is an American icon, and it's great to see that Major League Baseball honors the anniversary of his milestone every season."
That story also reminds us of a lesser-known piece of Jackie's life, that his baseball career was not the first time that he had fought against racial injustice.
In 1942, Robinson decided to put athletics on hiatus and enlisted in the U.S. Army. In the face of humiliating discrimination, Robinson took his first major step toward dismantling racial barriers. Serving in Texas, Robinson was court-martialed for refusing to move to the back of a military bus. He was eventually acquitted and given an honorable discharge.
While celebrating Jackie's life and achievements, let's not forget the contributions that his wife, Rachel, has made not only during his life, but in preserving his legacy and furthering their shared drive for social change. This week's issue of Sports Illustrated features a must read story on Rachel Robinson and her work in creating and leading the Jackie Robinson Foundation, continuing as a driving force even as she approaches her 90th birthday.
Rachel established the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 1973, less than a year after her husband died, at 53, of a heart attack. His death came 16 months after Jackie Jr., only 24 and the eldest of the Robinsons' children, was killed in a one-car crash. "My life, our family's life was plunged into grief," Rachel said from her corner office in New York City last month. "The foundation grew out of my mourning and my wish to hold on to [Jackie's] legacy, to continue our journey."
She laid the groundwork at the kitchen table of her home in Stamford, Conn., on the sprawling property where she and Jackie moved the family in 1954. ... "The goal was to do something beyond a one-time event or monument," says Edelman, who remains on the foundation's board. "It needed to be something that could sustain itself and have a lasting impact."
Rachel, who graduated cum laude from UCLA with a degree in nursing, steered the mission to education. The group decided to establish a scholarship program that would not only give money for minority students to attend college but also maintain a hands-on mentoring and leadership training program to help students through school once they got there. "The foundation today," Edelman says, "is an outgrowth of the things we—and by we I really mean Rachel—were saying at that kitchen table."