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Robinson remembered on 77th anniversary of breaking baseball's color barrier

Focus On Sport / Focus on Sport / Getty

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Major League Baseball marked the 77th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the sport's color barrier on Monday.

Robinson started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, beginning the end of the racial segregation that had relegated Black players to the Negro Leagues for decades.

"Jackie Robinson became the most vilified, targeted subject of verbal abuse and malicious treatment in the sports arena since Jack Johnson had the audacity to become heavyweight champion of the world in 1908," sociologist and civil rights activist Harry Edwards said at Dodger Stadium. "Like Jack Johnson, Jackie Robinson stood alone."

Members of Robinson's family, including his 101-year-old widow, were at ballparks from coast-to-coast to honor him.

At Citi Field, Rachel Robinson rode in a golf cart to the Mets dugout, where she was given flowers by manager Carlos Mendoza, and retired players Mookie Wilson and Butch Huskey, the last Mets player to wear Robinson’s No. 42.

"She's the legacy of perseverance," said David Robinson, the youngest son of Jackie and Rachel Robinson.

Every team playing Monday wore No. 42 jerseys.

Robinson's life story is particularly poignant to the Dodgers' Dave Roberts, the first manager of Asian heritage and second Black manager to lead a team to a World Series title.

"He had a big burden in his life to be a professional baseball player but to take on all this negativity, this hate towards him, his wife, his kids and still persevere," Roberts said.

Players and staff from the Dodgers, including Shohei Ohtani, and the Washington Nationals surrounded Robinson's statue in Centerfield Plaza hours before game time in Los Angeles.

"I can't say enough of what Jackie Robinson's meant to not only the Black community but the Hispanic community as well," Nationals manager Dave Martinez told the group. "He opened the doors for many, many great players, he really did, and he changed the lives of many including myself. I don't know if I would be here if it wasn't for Jackie. My idol Roberto Clemente definitely, probably wouldn't have been around. He exemplifies what it means to have strength, courage and passion."

Reggie Smith, who never played on a losing team in his 13-year MLB career, recalled nervously speaking to Robinson when they were on the same flight from Los Angeles to the East Coast.

Smith introduced himself and said Robinson told him, "I know who you are and I know what you stand for."

"That meant so much to me," Smith told the players. "Whenever there was injustice on that ballfield of any kind I would speak up because he gave me the courage to be able to do that."

The Dodgers and Nationals were joined by Ayo Robinson, a granddaughter of Jackie and Rachel Robinson who was born after his death in 1972. Her father is David Robinson.

"I soak up my grandfather through the experience of others," she said after the ceremony. "The fact that he is still so impactful in our society today means a lot to me as a person, but it means a lot to me as an American as well."

Smith urged today's MLB players to remember Robinson and his travails, which included being barred from hotels and restaurants because of his skin color as well as on-field verbal abuse from fans and opposing teams.

"Keep it in mind so that this game can continue to move forward the way that it has over the last years," Smith said, "and be thankful that you're here and you're able to do the things that you do day in and day out."



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