Wearing No. 42 with pride, MLB honors Jackie

League pays tribute en masse 66 years after breaking of color barrier

Wearing No. 42 with pride, MLB honors Jackie

Even without the matching No. 42 jerseys worn throughout baseball and without Monday's pregame festivities across the country, Jackie Robinson's historic legacy would have remained apparent around the baseball world.

One needs to look only at the on-field diversity to see it clearly.

But every year on April 15 -- the anniversary of Robinson's breaking the color barrier in 1947 -- the baseball world spends a day reinforcing the importance of that legacy by celebrating Jackie Robinson Day. In 1997, under the direction of Commissioner Bud Selig, Robinson's No. 42 was retired across all of Major League Baseball in an unprecedented tribute. In recent years, players have honored Robinson by wearing that number on his day.

"You look out on the field, and everybody has 42 on with no last name. It's just a special moment and a special day for baseball," Nationals center fielder Denard Span said before the Nats-Marlins game in Miami. "And not just baseball -- I think just for the United States as a whole, because he broke so many barriers, period, in baseball and other walks of life. He's definitely a figure that should be celebrated forever."

Dodger Stadium hosted the biggest fanfare of the evening, with a special video before the in-game tribute and a mini statue -- featuring Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe -- handed out to the first 40,000 fans. On hand for the ceremonies were Jackie's widow, Rachel; his daughter, Sharon; and his son, David.

The ceremonial first pitch at Dodger Stadium was thrown by actor Harrison Ford, who played Branch Rickey -- the general manager who gave Robinson the opportunity to shatter the color barrier -- in the movie "42."

"Jackie Robinson probably opened the door to a lot of those guys, too -- and me," Dodgers part owner Magic Johnson said before his team's series opener against the Padres. "If Jackie hadn't played for the Dodgers, I don't think I'd be an owner of the Dodgers."

In Cincinnati, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins took the wearing of No. 42 a step further, sporting custom-made blue cleats with the number across the heel.

Before his club's game against the Reds, Rollins tweeted: "66 years ago today Jackie Robinson opened the door for all men to be able to play Major League Baseball! Thank you".

In Miami, former Brooklyn Dodgers ball boy Norman Berman threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Now 85 years old and a resident of West Palm Beach, Fla., Berman reflected on Robinson's character during his playing career.

"He was intelligent -- college man," Berman said. "He played three or four different sports, and he was so great to talk to. He always had a smile on his face when he talked to me. I told him, 'I wanted to be a ballplayer. I just had to gain some weight.'

"Then we'd have a catch. I'd never go to him when he was playing pepper with the other guys, or if he was talking to somebody -- only when he was alone. Sometimes, when he was alone, I'd take the ball and throw it up in the air and catch it. That was my call to him. 'Could we have a chance now?' He'd say, 'Yeah.'"

Teams with Monday off will honor Robinson on Tuesday with similar celebrations across the country.

On Monday, umpires across baseball also donned No. 42 patches on their sleeves for the occasion, and on each of the bases at home ballparks was a logo commemorating the day.

"We're wearing the number 42 on the back tonight; a lot of people might not know what it really means," Blue Jays reliever Darren Oliver said.

"But I think a lot of people should … for what he did. How hard it would be to actually be the first black person to play baseball and go through all the stuff that he went through off the field, and on the field."

Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick echoed Oliver's sentiment.

"Wearing '42' just reminds me that there were no blacks in baseball at one point," Kendrick said, "and what Jackie Robinson endured -- all the threats, all the criticism he received from various sources -- to still go out and play the game, give all of us an opportunity to play the game, it was a huge impact on baseball. As a kid, I didn't really know a whole lot about Jackie Robinson, but the older I got, I really understood because I was really into baseball, and I really understood what he did. Basically, he's the reason why I'm here."

Remembering Robinson's legacy is a daily occurrence for Astros manager Bo Porter, who helped honor Robinson in Oakland, where two local Jackie Robinson Foundation alumnus scholars threw out the ceremonial first pitches.

"It's always meaningful when this day comes around," Porter said. "For me, though, it's every day. I was able to play, coach and manage baseball because of him. He means a lot to this country, and for me, I honor him every day."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.