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DeFranks: MLB takes time to honor Robinson (Apr. 17)

Matthew DeFranks | Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Never has a nightmare felt so good.

On a day where every major league player donned Jackie Robinson’s famous No. 42, broadcasters and public address announcers had a nightmare trying to decode who was who. Who’s that warming up in the bullpen? Who’s that in the on-deck circle? Who’s that making the pitching change?

Jackie Robinson and Jackie Robinson and Jackie Robinson.

He was everywhere on the field Sunday afternoon – just as he was everywhere in the news when he broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. The hall of famer racked up a career .316 average and six consecutive years in which he hit over .300.

But no one really cares about his stats. And if they do, they’re not the right stats. They remember the numerous death threats, the multitude of hate mail, the many flying cleats – but they also remember the one remarkable life he lived.

His courage and talent opened the door for two* black baseball players, first Hank Aaron and then Barry Bonds*, to break Babe Ruth’s long-standing home run record. His footsteps allowed Matt Kemp, Prince Fielder and Brandon Phillips to sign huge deals with major league squads. His heroics gave C.C. Sabathia and David Price the opportunity to play the sport they love at the highest level possible.

Despite the fact that just 8.5 percent of major league rosters made up of black players, “Jackie Robinson Day” on Sunday was a success.

My initial thought when this happened for the first time a few years ago was “Wow, they must really need to sell some jerseys.” But then I realized how genuine Major League Baseball was about this endeavor. They did it year after year to honor one of the game’s best.

They didn’t do a “Nolan Ryan Day” or a “Cy Young Day.” They didn’t do a “Ty Cobb Day” or a “Joe DiMaggio Day.”

This was special – and it worked.

There were special tributes at every stadium from Washington to Los Angeles, from Miami to Toronto. His family, his former teammates in the Negro Leagues and even the Tuskegee Airmen were all involved in the festivities.

Perhaps nothing could have seemed as right as when the Dodgers, Robinson’s old team, took the field Sunday on the West Coast. Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers, summed it up best during his broadcast: “Before Ellsbury. Before Kemp. Before Ichiro, Mo, and Thomas. Before Gwynn. Before Ozzie. Before Murray, and Carew. Before Frank. Before Ernie. Before Aaron, and Mays. There was Jackie.”

Kemp, the current Los Angeles centerfielder, tried his best to honor Robinson’s No. 42, bashing a home run on his way to a 3-for-4 day at the plate. The classic white Dodgers uniforms, with blue lettering and red numbers, looked particularly good with No. 42 back on them.

The whole day was a success. Why do I say that? Because I am writing a column about it. Because people are talking about it. Because the Jackie Robinson Foundation is being helped.

Because people take time to remember him.

So next time you see retired numbers hanging on an outfield wall, from an upper deck balcony or on flags rustling in the wind, note which one is everywhere, simply because one day is not enough.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.