A Tribute to Jackie

One of the great things about baseball is the continuity of the game. Although there have been changes through the years the basis of the game is the same. At any given game there is most likely to be a conversation between two fans where they attempt to compare a former player to a contemporary counterpart. How would Babe Ruth fare against today’s specialized pitchers? Could Cy Young mow down the larger hitters of today? How would commissioner Bud Selig handle Ty Cobb and his dirty play antics? The list of questions and comparisons are endless. As a baseball fan myself I am less interested in the comparisons and more fascinated with what it would be like to see past moments in history. I would love to go back in time and see some of the game’s greats in their prime.

I’d like to be in Yankee Stadium to see Roger Maris hit his 61st home run in 1961 or watch Ted Williams finish the season hitting .406 in 1941. I’d love to see Bobby Thompson hit that fateful home run to win the pennant or see Joe Jackson in the 1919 World Series to see for myself if he really did throw the games. But there is one event I would especially want to see. I want to travel back to April 15, 1947 and get a ticket to Ebbets Field to see the Boston Braves play the Brooklyn Dodgers.

I would like to see the players introduced and line up along the base paths. I want to witness for myself the reaction of the crowd and the players when number 42 is announced and Jackie Robinson emerges from the dugout to take his place on the field and in history. I want to see Jackie Robinson’s strength as he dealt with the hatred of being the man who integrated baseball. I’d like to see Branch Rickey and see the torment on his face as he had to watch one of his players treated in such a manner both initially in the Dodgers clubhouse then throughout baseball.

These are the moments that define us as a people and pave the way for greatness to follow. Without Jackie Robinson’s strength and example we would have missed out on seeing Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Bob Gibson, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and many of the game’s greatest players. Baseball fans everywhere owe Jackie Robinson a great deal. Major League Baseball was slow to recognize the significance of Jackie Robinson’s contribution. Ultimately they did the right thing and created Jackie Robinson Day to pay tribute to this civil rights pioneer and more importantly great ball player. In 2007 Ken Griffey Jr. approached commissioner Bud Selig and asked if he could wear number 42 on April 15 to recognize the accomplishments of Jackie Robinson. The commissioner agreed and for one day the number 42 was allowed to be worn. Several players around Major League Baseball followed Griffey’s example. It was a touching tribute and one I will never forget. The next season the commissioner again allowed players who wished to wear number 42 on Jackie Robinson day. There were more players and coaches who took part in this tribute with a few teams electing to have all their players wear Jackie’s number.

For the 2009 season Bud Selig went one step further and requested all players, coaches, and on-field personnel to wear number 42. It was an awe inspiring site as the Diamondbacks took the field and all nine starters for the Diamondbacks wore #42. The Diamondbacks were facing the St. Louis Cardinals who also were all wearing Jackie Robinson’s number. Looking up at the out-of-town scoreboard all the pitchers listed in every game showed 42. It was an incredible tribute and one that I am sure Jackie would greatly appreciate. It is my hopes that when next comes along the tradition will continue but will also be extended to the fans. I would like nothing better than to see every team in Major League Baseball give away T-Shirts to each fan entering the game with the team’s logo on the front and on the back have the #42. It would be a fitting tribute and allow everyone to stop and remember what Jackie Robinson meant not only to baseball but to all of mankind.

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