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ROBINSON TRIBUTE LEADS TO MLB RETIRING NUMBER 42
Published April 16, 1997
MLB's season-long tribute to the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier culminated last night with a special celebration at Shea Stadium where Acting Commissioner Bud Selig said Robinson's uniform number 42 will be retired throughout MLB. The event was televised live on ESPN. Selig: "Number 42 from this day forward will never again be issued by a Major League club. Number 42 belongs to Jackie Robinson for the ages." MLB stopped play of the Dodgers-Mets game after the fifth inning for the ceremony. Recording artist Tevin Campbell sang "The Impossible Dream" to a montage of highlights from Robinson's career. Selig then accompanied Robinson's widow Rachel and President Clinton out to the field. NUMBER FOR THE AGES: Selig, first to address the crowd: "Throughout its long history, Major League Baseball has operated under the premise that no single person is bigger than the game -- no single person other than Jackie Robinson. In his life and in the remarkable legacy he left for all Americans, Jackie Robinson was and remains bigger than the game. ... In honor of Jackie, Major League Baseball is taking the unprecedented step of retiring his uniform number, Number 42, in perpetuity." Selig said that players, like the Mets' Butch Huskey and Mo Vaughn of the Red Sox, who wear Number 42 as a tribute to Robinson, "may continue to wear the number for the remainder of their careers," but the number will never be issued again. Selig then directed the crowd to the left-field wall for an unveiling of Robinson's Number 42 alongside other retired Mets numbers. MORE CEREMONY: President Clinton followed Selig. Clinton: "It is hard to believe that it was 50 years ago at Ebbetts Field that a 28-year-old rookie changed the face of baseball and the face of America forever. ... I can't help thinking that if Jackie Robinson were here with us tonight, he would say that we have done a lot of good in the last 50 years, but we can do better. We have achieved equality on the playing field, but we need to establish equality in the boardrooms of baseball and throughout corporate America." Rachel Robinson concluded: "This anniversary has given us an opportunity as a nation to celebrate together the triumphs of the past and the social progress that has occurred. It has also given us an opportunity to reassess the challenges of the present. ... I believe that the greatest tribute that we can pay to Jackie Robinson is to gain new support for a more equitable society, and in this heady environment of unity it is my hope that we can carry this living legacy beyond this glorious [time]. This is a great moment for all of us" (ESPN, 4/15). MORE FROM THE TELECAST: ESPN's Joe Morgan, on Huskey, Vaughn and other players wearing No. 42: "I would like to think that maybe now that that number is retired, that they would change numbers and put that number into retirement permanently, because they did it as a tribute." Selig, who was interviewed in ESPN's booth after the ceremony, on Robinson breaking the color barrier: "It is the proudest moment in baseball history. ... [The idea to retire Robinson's No. 42] came easy. This is the least we can do. We need to do a lot more. ... We've come a long way in the last four or five years in terms of total hiring things. But, look, there's no sense in attempting to fool anybody. We need to do better in managers, in general managers, in executive positions." ESPN's Chris Berman interviewed President Clinton before the ceremony (ESPN, 4/15). WHITE WASH? In N.Y., Wallace Matthews notes the largely white audience in attendance at last night's tribute. One anonymous MLB official: "The league didn't do anything to market this event to the black community. [MLB] should have run an ad in every black newspaper and on every black radio station in the country." Selig: "Somehow we've lost our relationship with [the black] community. We've got to get it back" (N.Y. POST, 4/16). Interest in baseball among African-Americans was examined by ABC's Michele Norris on "World News Tonight." Norris: "The irony is that 50 years [after Robinson], blacks are turning away from baseball. ... You can see it in the stands, where blacks purchase less than 5% of Major League tickets" (ABC, 4/15).