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Jackie Robinson Day is a traditional event which occurs annually in Major League Baseball, commemorating and honoring the day Jackie Robinson made his major league debut. April 15 was Opening Day in 1947, Robinson's first season in the Major Leagues. Initiated for the first time on April 15, 2004, Jackie Robinson Day is celebrated each year on that day. The festivity is a result of Robinson's memorable career, best known for becoming the first black major league baseball player of the modern era in 1947. His debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers (today known as the Los Angeles Dodgers) ended approximately eighty years of baseball segregation, also known as the baseball color line, or color barrier. He also was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, remembered for his services with the number 42 jersey.
The gala is often celebrated at varied ballparks by Major League team players. Shea Stadium was one of the prominent venues hosting the event, having commemorated the retirement of Robinson's number 42 jersey in 1997. The numbered jersey is still worn to mark the event every year. Bob DuPuy, the President and Chief Operating Officer of Major League baseball, described Jackie Robinson Day as a significance "not only for baseball, but for our country in general."
The first Jackie Robinson Day was on April 15, 2004. That day was a start to an annual tradition throughout Major League Baseball and an inspirational reminder about what happened on that day exactly fifty-seven years earlier when Jackie Robinson became a Major League Baseball player. The day would be the first official league-wide Jackie Robinson Day, having festivities taking place at all 13 ballparks where Major League games were scheduled to be played. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig made the announcement with Sharon Robinson (daughter of Rachel and Jackie Robinson).
"I have often stated that baseball's proudest moment and its most powerful social statement came on April 15, 1947 when Jackie Robinson first set foot on a Major League Baseball field", said Selig. "On that day, Jackie brought down the color barrier and ushered in the era in which baseball became the true national pastime. Fifty years after that historic event, in April 1997, I was proud to join Rachel Robinson and President Bill Clinton at Shea Stadium to honor Jackie by retiring his uniform number 42 in perpetuity. By establishing April 15 as 'Jackie Robinson Day' throughout Major League Baseball, we are further ensuring that the incredible contributions and sacrifices he made — for baseball and society — will not be forgotten."
It began that Thursday morning with Sharon Robinson, ringing the ceremonial Opening Bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Rachel Robinson (Jackie Robinson's wife), officials from the Major League Baseball foundation, and officials of the Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF) took part in the special ceremony honoring Jackie Robinson. Festivities took place in the 13 ballparks that had scheduled games that day. The balls had a "42" logo on each of them for the games that day. Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to each game. "I'm very happy my son is in Boston today, we're happy that the scholars and family are at different clubs and look forward to expanding the celebration as the years go on", Robinson said. "And also continuing to come up with creative ways to reach out to the African-American community and bring them into this wonderful game of baseball that we all love."
April 15, 2005, was the 58th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's major league debut. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig officially declared that every April 15 would be designated as Jackie Robinson Day and it would be celebrated each year throughout Major League Baseball. Every ballpark in Major League Baseball in the United States celebrated Jackie Robinson Day, unlike in 2004 when it was only celebrated in 13 ballparks. Each ballpark showed a video tribute to Robinson, and many brought out Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars onto the field before the games. In Cincinnati, Ohio, Ken Griffey, Jr. spoke of how much every African-American baseball player owes Robinson, who was chosen by manager Branch Rickey to break the color line because of Robinson's inner courage and ability to keep his temper in check.
April 15, 2006, was the 59th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's major league debut. Rachel Robinson attended the ceremony, having former Negro Leagues players Robert Scott and Armando Vazquez also attending the ceremony. His widow was honored and celebrated at Shea Stadium. After a video tribute on the scoreboard of Shea Stadium of Jackie Robinson, Rachel Robinson walked to the pitcher's mound before the New York Mets hosted the Milwaukee Brewers, along with Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, and New York 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." A large blue, gray and white circle with "42" on it was put over home plate representing the colors of Jackie Robinson's uniform with the Dodgers as a major leaguer.
April 15, 2007, was the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's major league debut, with ceremonies held at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. Uniformed personnel (players, coaches and managers) were invited to wear the number 42 just for that day to commemorate Robinson. During the 2007 regular season, Ken Griffey, Jr. called Bud Selig to ask for permission to wear number 42 on Jackie Robinson Day. Griffey received special permission from Rachel Robinson to wear number 42 on Jackie Robinson Day of 2007.
Number 42 had been retired for every Major League Baseball team. This meant that no future Major League Baseball player could wear it. The number was retired in a ceremony which took place in 1997 at Shea Stadium to mark the 50th anniversary of Robinson's first game with the Dodgers. (The last active player to still retain the Number 42 is Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees, who retired at the end of the 2013 season). Selig embraced the gesture and encouraged other Major League Baseball clubs to have a player wear number 42 on Jackie Robinson Day as well.
Several players thought having over 150 players wearing number 42 on Jackie Robinson Day was far too many. "This is supposed to be an honor", Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter told USA Today, "and just a handful of guys wearing the number. Now you've got entire teams doing it. I think we're killing the meaning. It should be special wearing Jackie's number, not just because it looks cool." Cleveland Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia, who decried the lack of African-American players in the game in March 2007, told USA Today that "It kind of waters it down. I could see the Dodgers since that was his team, but not everyone else." "I didn't know so many guys planned to wear the number. I sure wasn't expecting whole teams to wear it", Griffey told the USA Today. "But I'm not going to look at it as a negative. This is a tribute for what the man has done, a day to celebrate." Garret Anderson, Los Angeles Angels left fielder, told the USA Today that he won't wear number 42 because "I just don't feel I'm worthy of it."
Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson, both Baseball Hall of Famers, threw the ceremonial first pitches, and fellow Hall of Famers Joe Morgan and Dave Winfield were on hand. Actors Courtney B. Vance and Marlon Wayans also attended the Jackie Robinson Day ceremony. Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the games started. More than 240 players wore number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson's retired number, including the entire team rosters of the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Pittsburgh Pirates. All scheduled games were played that day except for several games - notably the Washington Nationals-New York Mets, the Houston Astros-Philadelphia Phillies (the game and the ceremony was held on the make-up date on April 23, 2007), as was the Pirates game against the San Francisco Giants; the uniforms were worn at the team's next home game at PNC Park - all due to a major rainstorm in the Eastern United States that postponed six games.
Andre Ethier, Russell Martin and Wilson Valdez managed to each earn three hits each during the Dodgers game. Ethier hit a home run which drove in the first four runs of the season for the Dodgers, who stole five bases — their most since August 23, 1999 when they stole seven in a game at Milwaukee. "It's kind of cool to have a decent game on Jackie Robinson Day," Martin said. "I’m going to remember this probably for the rest of my life." Randy Wolf, who was playing for the Dodgers at the time (currently a free agent) allowed six hits and three runs in six innings and struck out seven. "The whole team wearing No. 42, it kind of goes sour if we don’t win," Wolf said. "It was great. There were a lot of special people here. It's a special day and I think they did it right." The San Diego Padres' José Cruz, Jr. hit his 200th career home run.
Chris Young's streak of 25 consecutive road starts without a loss was broken that day by the Dodgers win. The only other pitcher in major league baseball history had gone as many as 25 straight road starts without losing — Allie Reynolds had a 25-game streak in 1948–1949. "I was terrible," Young said. "I just never found my rhythm and never found my groove. I put the guys in a hole early in the game and it was just too much to overcome. I can’t imagine, having to go through that, the courage it took, the discipline, and just how successful he was. I mean, he wasn’t just successful integrating the game. He was a great baseball player. He's a Hall of Fame baseball player. He wouldn’t allow himself to fail, and that's tremendous."
"Oh Happy Day," a Robinson favorite, was sung by The Brookinaires Gospel Choir from The First African Methodist Episcopal Church. Paintings of Minnesota Twins logos acknowledging Robinson were on both sides of the home plate with another behind second base, and "Jackie Robinson Day" was printed on the bases. A video tribute with Morgan and Aaron among those participating was shown. Several current players expressed their thanks to Robinson in the video also.
April 15, 2008, was the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson's major league debut. Over 330 team members wore number 42, more than the over 240 last year. When the teams took the field, all players, managers and coaches were wearing number 42, and was repeated at all other 14 ballparks that had scheduled games that day. All players wore number 42 at games including the Washington Nationals' game at the New York Mets, Pittsburgh's game at the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels' game at the Texas Rangers. The Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays also wore number 42, increasing the total to nine teams. "The significance of Jackie Robinson Day is not lost on anyone", said Bob DuPuy. "As more and more people realize what April 15 means, not only for baseball, but for our country in general, I think you're going to see the celebration grow annually."
The celebration for the 2009 season, commemorating the 62nd anniversary of Robinson's debut, included the dedication for the Jackie Robinson Rotunda at Citi Field, the New York Mets' new home in Flushing Meadows prior to the Mets playing the San Diego Padres in the second regular season game to be played there. Additionally, for the first time, all uniformed personnel (players, managers, coaches and umpires) wore #42 for the day. The sole exception was when the scheduled game at Nationals Park between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals was rained out; they wore the jerseys in the night game of a day-night doubleheader May 16.
The celebration of Jackie Robinson Day, marking the 63rd anniversary of his debut, marked the second season that all uniformed personnel and umpires wearing #42. A total of twelve games were played that day, so as a result, several teams wore Robinson's number in another game in April due to an off day planned for several teams. The main celebration was again in New York, but was held at the new Yankee Stadium, yards from the original stadium where Robinson played in seven World Series against the New York Yankees.
The 64th anniversary of Robinson's debut marked the third straight season all uniformed players and umpires wearing #42, with the exception of the rained-out New York Mets-Atlanta Braves game; the teams wore the uniforms the following day's makeup game. In addition, a new MLB website, www.iam42.com, was established.
65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut and 4th straight season all uniformed players, coaches and umpires wore No. 42.
The 67th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut will be celebrated at Historic Dodgertown, where Robinson and teammates used to spend their spring training preparing for the upcoming season for the Dodgers. Owned by former Dodger owner Peter O'Malley, Historic Dodgertown will host the 2014 celebration by putting on a minor league exhibition game. Also, four games - Atlanta at Philadelphia, Cleveland at Detroit, Tampa Bay at Baltimore and the Chicago Cubs at the New York Yankees - were postponed due to a rainstorm that plagued much of the eastern USA. The ceremonies for those games were rescheduled for the following day.