Dodgers to unveil Jackie Robinson statue later this year
Team will get input from Hall of Famer's widow and daughter
LOS ANGELES -- On the 68th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson shattered Major League Baseball's color barrier, the Dodgers announced they are going to further honor the man whom Commissioner Rob Manfred on Wednesday called "the most historic figure to ever play the game."
Just before the pregame festivities for the now-combined Civil Rights Game and Jackie Robinson Day, Dodgers president Stan Kasten announced there would be a statue of Robinson unveiled later this year at the refurbished Dodger Stadium.
The image will be part of new statue program honoring Dodgers icons that will begin with a chiseled depiction of the great Robinson created with the input of his 92-year-old widow, Rachel, and daughter, Sharon.
"We don't have any details for you today, not design, not timing, not location," Kasten said during a media conference. "We're going to be doing that with Rachel and Sharon and the family. But it will be done to pay tribute to Jackie Robinson, who everyone here in the Dodgers thinks so highly of. And we couldn't be prouder that Rachel is here for the announcement."
The announcement received a huge round of applause from the group in attendance, which included Kasten, Manfred, Rachel and Magic Johnson, the Dodgers' ownership partner and Hall of Fame basketball player for the Lakers, sitting side by side at a front table.
Sitting in the front row of the audience with Sharon was Hall of Famer and the first African-American MLB manager Frank Robinson, who's nearing 80 and who serves as an advisor to Manfred.
All of them were on the field as part of the festivities. Only moments later, they were all behind the mound while the uniformed members of the Dodgers and Mariners stood on the baselines. As has become custom on this day, all of them wore Robinson's No. 42, which was retired by decree of former Commissioner Bud Selig upon the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Robinson's feat in 1997.
Rachel was introduced to the strains of "The Natural," with Sandy Koufax, a Brooklyn native and Hall of Fame Dodgers left-hander, whose career began in 1955, during Robinson's next-to-last season in the game.
It was the idea of retired Mariners great Ken Griffey Jr. to wear the No. 42 on this day. He petitioned Selig for permission, then one by one, players began to do it. Now everyone in uniform on every MLB team wears the digits on this date.
On Wednesday, the No. 42 was carved into the infield dirt behind second base, the position Robinson played for most of his 10-year career, which ended in 1956 when the Dodgers traded him to the rival Giants. Robinson retired rather than report, but he had decided to leave the game anyway, without telling the Dodgers before the trade.
Robinson's big league career began on April 15, 1947, when he took the field at first base for the Dodgers against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field. Robinson had never played the position before that spring, when he was handed a first baseman's glove at the beginning of camp, which was held that year only in Havana, Cuba.
Eddie Stanky was the incumbent second baseman for the Dodgers in 1947, but he was traded to the Braves after that season to open the position for Robinson.
Rachel said she still recalls that now-long-ago, but much-heralded day of her late husband's debut.
"It was a very exciting day, but a very stressful day," she said. "But it was more exciting than stressful, because it was such a great opportunity and he made the most of it. I knew he'd be able to meet the challenge and he knew he was able. So we didn't have the fear that he was up to it. We knew he was up to it. That's good when you know you have people attacking you and who are against you. It pushes you to say, 'I'm going to do it.'"
Pee Wee Reese, the shortstop and captain, is also a major figure in the Robinson story. His gesture of putting his arm around Robinson on the infield dirt while Robinson was being hurled with abuse by fans in Cincinnati is memorialized in the film "42." A statute of the two commemorating the moment is located outside the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones' ballpark on Coney Island in Brooklyn.
Larger-than-life busts of Jackie and his older brother Mack are located in a park on Garfield Avenue in nearby Pasadena, Calif., the city where both of the boys were raised after moving west from their birthplace in Cairo, Ga. Mack was a sprinter who won the silver medal in the 200-meter race just a split-second behind gold-medal winner Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Robinson has not been so honored at Dodger Stadium until now. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, but the Dodgers didn't retire his number until 1972, just months before Robinson's death at 53 from the complications of diabetes and heart disease.
"It's an obvious idea that's been rolling around since we got here," said Kasten, who joined the current ownership group, led by chairman Mark Walter, when the team was purchased almost three years ago. "We've been searching for a time and a place. It seemed inevitable that there would be a Jackie Robinson statue at the right time, and we think today is the right time to announce it."
Asked how she felt about the gesture, Rachel said simply:
"How do I feel? I've been waiting, waiting for years and years."