Mets Pay Tribute To Jackie Robinson With Ceremony Before Game With Nationals

Friday, April 20th 2007, 7:50 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) - Rachel Robinson was torn about where to celebrate the 60th anniversary of her husband, Jackie, breaking baseball's colour barrier.

She ended up taking part in ceremonies in Los Angeles and New York.

The Mets paid tribute to Jackie Robinson on Friday night, five days after their game against the Washington Nationals was rained out on the actual anniversary of Robinson's debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field.

"I'm excited that I'm able to be in both places," Rachel Robinson said before the pre-game ceremonies Friday, "because both teams have been very good to us as a foundation and my heart is with both of them and my fanship."

Mets manager Willie Randolph wore No. 42 in honour of Robinson and escorted Rachel to the podium for the commemoration, along with Jackie's son, David. Three tribute videos were shown on the video scoreboard at Shea Stadium, and the Mets also recognized four Negro League players during the ceremony.

"His heroics transcended far beyond baseball," David Robinson said of his father. "...Tonight we honour a man and barriers broken 60 years ago."

Most of baseball celebrated the anniversary on Sunday when more than 200 players, managers and coaches wore his number. Commissioner Bud Selig also presented Mrs. Robinson with the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award for her work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, formed in 1973 to raise scholarship money for qualified minorities.

Rachel Robinson received a standing ovation from the crowd as it filed in for the game against NL East-rival Atlanta. One fan held up a sign that read "Thank you Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby." Less than three months after Robinson broke baseball's colour barrier in 1947, Doby made his debut for the Indians, becoming the AL's first black player.

When Robinson played in his first game with the Dodgers, "Whites inside only" and "Coloreds entrance" were signs of the time. He was subjected to racist remarks from players and fans alike. But Dodgers executive Branch Rickey made Robinson his choice to break the colour barrier because he believed he was mature enough and tough enough to survive and thrive.

"Being a kid growing up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York, Jackie was my total inspiration," Randolph said. "To be able to wear his No. 42 is a tremendous honour. It's something that I'll cherish and remember the rest of my life."

"He meant a lot to a lot of us, not just athletes and African-Americans, but socially in this country, what he did off the field was monumental. It's just a great day."

Robinson retired following the 1956 season - after the Dodgers traded him to the rival Giants - and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962. He died in October 1972 at age 53.

The amount of black players in the big leagues has dwindled in recent years - only 8.4 per cent of major leaguers last season, according to one study - and Mrs. Robinson said the numbers would've disappointed her husband.

"He would've just said 'We need to fight harder. We need to find out what the factors are that are causing this decrease and do something about it,"' she said. "He was a person of action and he didn't want to see us be complacent about our situation."