This year marks the diamond jubilee anniversary of the legendary Jackie Robinson’s debut in 1947 at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. The Brooklyn Dodgers’ baseman broke the baseball color line and became the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball.
“But if Mr. Rickey hadn’t signed me, I wouldn’t have played another year in the black league. It was too difficult,” Robinson once said. “The travel was brutal. Financially, there was no reward. It took everything you make to live off.”
Since 2009, April 15, Robinson’s debut day, has been celebrated as Jackie Robinson Day. This Friday, every player, coach and umpire wore Robinson’s pride No. 42 – as they usually do – and gathered around Robinson’s statue that was built in 2017, located at the park behind the outfield bleachers of the Dodger Stadium. However, for the 75th anniversary, all teams wore the No. 42 jerseys in Dodger blue instead of their primary team colors.
“Seventy-five years ago, Jackie Robinson took the field under incredibly challenging circumstances and unimaginable pressure. Yet through his courage, character, skill, and values, he brought well-needed change to our game and advanced the civil rights movement in our country,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said.
The Los Angeles Dodgers manager, Dave Roberts, spoke at the remembrance. “Jackie was all about looking out and looking forward,” he said. “So to appreciate how far we’ve come is certainly fair, but more important is where we need to go. That’s what pushes and challenges all of us to keep getting better and to make change. … What Jackie did was incredible, but we’ve got to keep going.”
As the first manager of Asian heritage and the second African-American manager to win the World Series in 2020, this anniversary meant a lot to Roberts. It facilitated space to reflect and discuss important matters, as well as raise awareness about today’s reality and continue shaping attitudes in and outside sports.
“Baseball, it’s bigger than us individually,” Roberts said.
David Robinson speaks at the anniversary
MLB also invited David Robinson, Jackie’s son, to speak on his father’s behalf on this special occasion. He said, “Jackie Robinson and the African-American community rose in spirit together and knew what African-Americans always knew: That we had the ability given the opportunity, and that the opportunity was not only unfairly denied and unjustly denied but benefited nobody.”
David also said what he felt his father would say. He said, “My father would say, as he always said, “Let’s reflect. Let’s ask ourselves: Where have we come as a nation in these 75 years? Have we really brought ourselves together? Have we really created equality? Is there some sustainable and gainful employment that all Americans are able to achieve?”
“Are we unified as a nation and made stronger by that unity? Are we in sync with our neighbors around the world? What is the African-American position? What’s our plan for survival and self-development? Those are the questions he would ask if he was here today because those questions are still right on the table of challenges that are facing America now.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation also used Jackie Robinson Day as an opportunity to kickstart Fundraiser 42. The team’s official charity aims to raise money for the Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarships through the initiative, which is going to take place for three months.
Anyone interested can donate by texting “JACKIE42” to 41623. The proceeds from Friday’s 50/50 will be extended to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was founded by Robinson’s wife, Rachel, in 1973 following his death.
As Roberts concluded, “So we all have a platform, an opportunity, a responsibility, as David said today, which is great.”