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LOS ANGELES - The Dodgers solemnly lined up along the third-base line, each and every one wearing No. 42.
Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947, with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the sport celebrated the 60th anniversary of his debut throughout the country Sunday, when more than 200 players, managers and coaches wore his number.
“I’ve often said that baseball’s most powerful moment in its really terrific history was Jackie Robinson’s coming into baseball,” commissioner Bud Selig said during an on-field ceremony before the Dodgers beat San Diego 9-3.
“It’s an incredible story — not just for baseball, but for society,” Selig said. “Jackie was an American hero and the ultimate barrier-breaker. Threats to his life were commonplace. Yet Jackie took everything hate-mongers had to offer him. Not only is he a baseball Hall of Famer, he’s a Hall of Famer for all-time.”
Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson threw out ceremonial first pitches, and fellow Hall of Famers Joe Morgan and Dave Winfield were on hand, joined by actors Courtney B. Vance and Marlon Wayans. Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Adding a personal touch were Robinson’s widow, Rachel, and two Dodgers who knew him. Broadcaster Vin Scully paid tribute to Rachel Robinson, and Don Newcombe, Robinson’s former teammate and a longtime Dodgers executive, looked on.
Andre Ethier, Russell Martin and Wilson Valdez had three hits each for Los Angeles to send the sellout crowd of 55,298 home happy. Ethier homered and drove in his first four runs of the season for the Dodgers, who stole five bases — their most since Aug. 23, 1999 when they stole seven in a game at Milwaukee.
“It’s kind of cool to have a decent game on Jackie Robinson Day,” Martin said. “I’m going to remember this probably for the rest of my life.”
Randy Wolf (2-1) allowed six hits and three runs in six innings and struck out seven. San Diego’s Jose Cruz Jr. hit his 200th career homer.
“The whole team wearing No. 42, it kind of goes sour if we don’t win,” Wolf said. “It was great. There were a lot of special people here. It’s a special day and I think they did it right.”
The Dodgers snapped Padres starter Chris Young’s streak of 25 consecutive road starts without a loss. Young was 9-0 with 16 no-decisions on the road dating to June 25, 2005, at Houston when he was with Texas. Only one other pitcher in big league history had gone as many as 25 straight road starts without losing — Allie Reynolds had a 25-game streak in 1948-49.
“I was terrible,” Young said. “I just never found my rhythm and never found my groove. I put the guys in a hole early in the game and it was just too much to overcome.”
Young wrote about Robinson for his 2002 Princeton thesis, and said that in doing the work, he learned a tremendous respect and appreciation for the former Dodgers’ star.
“I can’t imagine, having to go through that, the courage it took, the discipline, and just how successful he was,” said Young, a 27-year-old right-hander from Dallas. “I mean, he wasn’t just successful integrating the game. He was a great baseball player. He’s a Hall of Fame baseball player. He wouldn’t allow himself to fail, and that’s tremendous.”
At the 50th anniversary ceremony of Robinson’s debut, at New York’s Shea Stadium in 1997, then-President Clinton spoke and Selig announced Robinson’s No. 42 was being retired by all major league teams. The only player wearing No. 42 then who remains active is New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera. After Cincinnati’s Ken Griffey Jr. asked for permission to wear the number Sunday, Selig invited others to use No. 42 for the day.
The Brookinaires Gospel Choir from The First African Methodist Episcopal Church sang “Oh Happy Day,” a Robinson favorite. Twin logos acknowledging Robinson were painted on both sides of the plate with another behind second base, and “Jackie Robinson Day” was printed on the bases. There was a video tribute with Morgan and Aaron among those participating. And several current players expressed their thanks to Robinson.
Selig presented Mrs. Robinson with the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award for her work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, formed in 1973 to raise scholarship money for qualified minorities. Robinson died in October 1972 at age 53.
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