ROBINSON TRIBUTE LEADS TO MLB RETIRING NUMBER 42
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).