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MLB pays tribute to Jackie Robinson

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Ben Walker
April 16, 2012
— LaTroy Hawkins has heard the stories from his 87-year-old grandfather, about his days of picking cotton in Mississippi, about the times when there were no black players in big league baseball.

And about what it meant when Jackie Robinson broke the game’s color barrier.


“Without Jackie, I wouldn’t be in front of you,” the Los Angeles Angels pitcher told several dozen kids at a Bronx ballfield Sunday. “Jackie’s role in my life has been tremendous.”


From Dodger Stadium to Fenway Park, there were ceremonies as Major League Baseball honored Robinson and his legacy. Video tributes and on-field celebrations at every ballpark included his family, his former teammates, players from the Negro Leagues, NBA great Bill Russell and members of the Tuskegee Airmen.


Players, managers, coaches and umpires all wore No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day to remember the 65th anniversary of the day the future Hall of Famer first took the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Markers on each base noted the occasion.


Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, Hawkins and several former players joined Robinson’s


daughter, Sharon, at a youth clinic in a park where the old Yankee Stadium stood. Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s wife, and her family were set to take part in a tribute across the street Sunday night before the Angels played the New York Yankees.


Hawkins noted the dwindling percentage of black players in the big leagues. There were only 8.5 percent on opening day in 2011—there were twice as many in 1990 when the Richard Lapchick’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida started tracking the number.


Hawkins thanked his granddad for always steering him toward baseball instead of basketball and encouraged parents to do the same. He also said colleges could help by offering four-year baseball scholarships.


“Play the game,” Hawkins said.


Asked whether he thought MLB would ever again achieve a high population of black players, he said: “Anything’s possible.”


Jackson recalled his days in the minor leagues, where he was not allowed to stay in the same hotels or eat in the same restaurants as his teammates. He said he sometimes spent the night on the couch at the apartments of Rollie Fingers, Joe Rudi, Dave Duncan and others.


“It was a very embarrassing time in your life,” he said.


Jackson paused to “to remember what it was like, what I went through” and reflected on the likes of Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, black players who followed Robinson to the Dodgers.


“He represented all of us,” Jackson said. “I really feel he represented black and white.”


Hall of Fame Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, who had missed five games because of a bad cold, returned to the broadcast booth. Scully, now 84, called Brooklyn games for more than seven years when Robinson played.


“All I want to do is think about the game and Jackie and how grateful I am to be back,” Scully said.


Tweeted current Dodgers star Matt Kemp: “Thank u Jackie Robinson!!!”



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