Empire State Building illuminated in Jackie's honor

April 15th, 2022

NEW YORK -- On any given night in the city, one could look up at NYC's skyline and see the glow of the Empire State Building's tower lights piercing through the dark. It's a tradition that dates back to 1976. On some nights, those lights even paint the sky in color to recognize important occasions, holidays or organizations.

On Friday, upon the 75th anniversary of 's Major League debut, when he broke the color barrier and became MLB's first Black player, the "World's Most Famous Building" was lit up in blue and white with a rotating No. 42 in the mast.

That afternoon, shortly after 42nd Street and Broadway was temporarily renamed Jackie Robinson Way, several of baseball's dignitaries made their way over from Times Square to the Empire State Building for a lighting ceremony. Led by Meta Robinson -- granddaughter of Robinson and his wife, Rachel -- Ken Griffey Jr., CC Sabathia, Joe Torre, Willie Randolph and Butch Huskey flipped the switch to unveil the ESB's new look.

"It's a wonderful day for my family, a wonderful day for baseball and for America, so that in and of itself is worth a celebration," Meta Robinson said. "Having it here is iconic in many ways, and I'm just honored to be a part of it and be a part of the celebration in such a big way [knowing] that 75 years later, we're still celebrating, we're still remembering and we're continuing to stand on his strong shoulders to move forward."

The group then moved to the Grand Staircase, where they could stand directly in front of a model that showed how the Empire State Building would look all lit up later that night. The rotating No. 42 was not yet part of the display, though, leading Sabathia to quip, "I'll be looking forward to that." They even went up to the 86th floor observatory main deck to take in the views of the city from atop the skyscraper.

At the same time that the Empire State Building shone blue and white in N.Y., all across the country, MLB players wore No. 42 during their games -- as they have on Jackie Robinson Day since 2009, two years after Griffey initiated the tradition. This year, however, the number itself will also feature Brooklyn Dodgers blue.

Sabathia has seen numerous Jackie Robinson Day celebrations throughout his life and career, and as one of the guests of honor at every NYC event on Friday -- starting early in the morning with a "PLAY BALL" activation in the pedestrian plaza on 44th Street and Broadway -- he said that this year's commemoration was easily the most expansive.

"In between when I first came up until 2007, it wasn't really a big celebration." Sabathia said. "But now it's recognized basically as a baseball holiday, and I feel like it should be a national holiday. It's getting bigger and bigger."

Having the Empire State Building lit up in recognition of Robinson's accomplishments was certainly a step in that direction. It's a tribute that very few people have had bestowed upon them.

"It's an honor [reserved] for certain people in this world," Griffey said. "Kobe [Bryant] when he passed. Prince. Certain people that have gone that are no longer here to be celebrated. That's what it's about, because these guys were pioneers in their own way."