Griffin: Jackie Robinson Day celebrates 65th anniversary
Players around major-league baseball wore uniforms with the No. 42, a number that has been retired from use by all teams since the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947. The only major-leaguer that didn't have to be re-outfitted was Mariano Rivera of the Yankees. Players that wore No. 42 before the 50th anniversary were allowed to continue.
The Blue Jays defeatewd the O's 9-2, winning for the sixth straight season on the Robinson anniversary. One interested observer at the Rogers Centre was former Jays manager Cito Gaston, who has always had strong views on the Dodgers' Hall-of-Famer. Gaston came up as a player in the '60s and can appreciate what Robinson endured.
“It should mean a lot, not only in baseball, but in other aspects of life and jobs," Gaston said. "Without Mr. Robinson, we certainly as minorities would not have had a chance to succeed and move forward in our jobs, our lives. The Latin players too, all of them should think about it. If it had not been for Mr. Robinson, we wouldn't be here today.
“Having gone through some of the things that he went through in the minor leagues, in the deep south wasn't pretty, so I can only imagine what he went through, even as far as playing the game. I'm not sure how big his strike zone was and, of course, people throwing at him all the time and trying to get him out of the game. Back then it was very racist, but they picked the right guy. They picked the right man to do it."
Of course, the impact of Robinson was as much on the faric of American society as it was just on the sport of baseball. Back in the first half of the 20th century, America and baseball were basically interchangeable. It led to a union of thoughts, hopes and dreams between the integration of all major-league rosters and Dr. Martin Luther King.
“Jackie was first. Then Dr. King came along, who we all loved and certainly without him we would not have any dreams of anything that we've done in the past," Gaston said. "So these two guys are pretty special. I never got to meet either one of them, but maybe oner of these days I will.
"You can go back and think about the Negro Leagues and all those players that didn't get a chance to play in the majors. Thanks to Mr. Robinson I got a chance to play in the major leagues. I got a chance to manage and coach in the big leagues and still be a part of this organization, still part of baseball."
Young Jays' left fielder Eric Thames grew up in southern California, first becoming aware of the important human rights pioneer and his journey for the first time in a Grade 3 history class, long before he knew that he, himself, would end up in professional baseball.
"Jackie Robinson was one of the pioneers of African-American culture," the 25-year-old Thames said. "I really didn't understand it. Everyone knows about him, but I really didn't understand what he went through until, like, last year. You see all the pressure, the media and the fans, everything else that goes on, but to multiply that 10-fold is what he went through. He didn't have to only carry a country on his back, he had an entire race on his back. That's something I can't even begin to imagine.
"The big thing is he wore it. He didn't lash out. He internalized it. He died at a young age of natural causes, apparently because he had all that stress. It takes a big toll. He sacrificed his life, pretty much so players like myself can play."