Robinson celebrated by A's, White Sox
Tributes to trailblazer mark 61st anniversary of first game
CHICAGO -- Harold Baines grew up in a town known as St. Michael's, Md., an area in Talbot County that had a population of around 2,000.
So, the White Sox current first-base coach and franchise legend didn't exactly find a plethora of opportunities to study up on the history of baseball until he became a player.
"We played the game, but we didn't know the history until I got involved with baseball," Baines said.
One big piece of this game's history was the legacy left by Jackie Robinson, who officially broke the color barrier in the game 61 years ago on Tuesday. In honor of his monumental contributions, Jackie Robinson Day was celebrated around baseball on this particular anniversary -- as it has been since its inception in 2004.
Robinson's jersey No. 42 was retired throughout baseball in 1997. But on this special day, all players and coaches around the game are offered a chance to wear the uniform.
Nick Swisher, Jermaine Dye, Baines, manager Ozzie Guillen and third-base coach Jeff Cox wore No. 42 for the White Sox during Tuesday's 4-1 over Oakland. The entire A's team decided to don No. 42 in recognition of Robinson.
"Our equipment guy asked who wanted to wear [No. 42], and they all wanted to do it," Oakland manager Bob Geren said. "I thought that was a good tribute, the whole team getting together to honor a man like that."
"It's just respect for me, for a guy who broke the ground for me being able to play this game," Baines added. "So, any time I have a chance to honor him, I'll honor him."
Robinson's memory lives on today in initiatives such as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was founded by Rachel Robinson, his widow, in 1973 to provide education and leadership development opportunities for minority students with strong capabilities but limited financial resources. Additionally, the Breaking Barriers program utilizes baseball-themed activities to reinforce literacy skills, mathematics, science and social history in addition to addressing critical issues of character development, such as conflict resolution and self-esteem.
At U.S. Cellular Field, home plate, the bases and lineup cards featured a Jackie Robinson logo. Minnie Minoso, the first black player, although not the first African-American, to suit up for the White Sox, was presented with the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Negro Leagues Museum in an on-field ceremony before the game. Minoso then threw out the first pitch.
The White Sox also welcomed three Jackie Robinson Scholars in Inez Jones, Ebony McGee and former JRF scholar Judge Gardner. He recently graduated from Washington University, where he established the Accel Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to expose St. Louis inner-city high school students to college tours, career options and tries to spark interest in current events.
Jim Thome had planned to wear jersey No. 42. Instead, he served his one-game suspension Tuesday handed down by Major League Baseball following his ejection from Friday's game.
"It's an honorable day in Major League baseball for a great man," Thome said.
Through visits to the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., and the honoring of Robinson, Guillen said he has learned a great deal about the game in the past three to four years.
"And I thought I kind of knew baseball," Guillen said. "I learned a lot about this country and how baseball is very important. I think [Robinson] did a lot of great things for us.
"This is a little part of what we can do for him. I think this game got better and better and one of the biggest reasons, the big part, is because of what he went through to make it better here."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.