Jackie Robinson Way unveiled for 75th anniversary

April 15th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Seventy-five years ago, before it was known that a Black man could be the President of the United States and the first female V.P. would be a Black woman, before interracial couples could legally wed and every citizen had the right to vote, there was a Black man named Jackie Robinson who wanted to play in Major League Baseball.

On this date -- April 15 -- in 1947, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, Robinson made his debut with the Dodgers, breaking the color barrier and becoming the National League’s first Black player, the first player in what was then considered Major League Baseball. And on Friday morning, the 75th anniversary of his groundbreaking achievement, another landmark was bestowed upon Robinson roughly 10 miles northwest of that historic location.

In a press conference in Times Square, the City of New York, in partnership with MLB, declared that 42nd Street and Broadway will temporarily be renamed Jackie Robinson Way. Commissioner Rob Manfred; Sonya Pankey, the eldest granddaughter of Robinson and his wife, Rachel; Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr., Mariano Rivera -- the last Major Leaguer to wear No. 42 -- and Joe Torre; and former big leaguers Willie Randolph, CC Sabathia and Butch Huskey all took part in the special unveiling ceremony.

“Jackie showed the world that equality should be a fundamental right for all and that real change in our society was possible,” Manfred said. “Baseball did not truly become the national pastime until Jackie -- and those who followed him -- integrated our sport. Jackie’s courage was a beacon for much-needed change, both for our game and for our society. Throughout his trailblazing Hall of Fame career, Jackie set baseball on a new course, and in doing so, he inspired those who would lead the civil rights movement and those who would support that movement.

“On and off the field, baseball seeks to be representative of Americans from all walks of life. We must continually strive to be inclusive and to make diversity not just a business objective, but instead, part of who we are. Our diversity is what makes us great as a nation and as a sport.”

NYC deputy mayor for economic and workplace development Maria Torres-Springer, who was present on behalf of Mayor Eric Adams’ administration, made the momentous announcement with baseball’s dignitaries flanked beside her, helping her reveal the street signage marker featuring a commemorative 75th anniversary logo. It was placed at 42nd and Broadway that afternoon, and it will later be taken to the National Baseball of Fame in Cooperstown.

“Because of Jackie’s efforts to break the color barrier in baseball, he transcended not just sport but really so many aspects of our society, and his courage continues to be felt today,” Torres-Springer said. “He paved the way not only for Black baseball players and other sports professionals, but for Black leaders, Black mayors, Black business owners and Black entrepreneurs.

“Jackie Robinson was a business pioneer right here in New York. He became the first Black U.S. vice president of a major national corporation and was the first African American to establish a bank in Harlem in 1963. He knew, of course, that it was critical to support the economic aspirations of the nation’s Black community, and today we continue to try to follow his example in all five boroughs.”

Robinson’s No. 42 was retired throughout MLB by former Commissioner Bud Selig at Shea Stadium on April 15, 1997, during a Dodgers-Mets game attended by Rachel Robinson and President Bill Clinton. It was the first time any number had been retired across one of the four major American sports leagues. The tradition of every player wearing No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day was initiated by Griffey, who called Selig in 2007 and asked if he could wear the number as baseball celebrated the 60th anniversary of Robinson’s debut.

“I wanted to wear it to honor that man because of the sacrifices that he [made] and what he did. If it wasn’t for him, maybe my dad would have never played. Maybe I would have never played,” Griffey said. “I can’t imagine what he’s gone through, and I don’t have to go through that because that man did it for us, and he did it for this country. He did it for each and every one of us to allow us to go out there and play the game that we love.”

Torre, the oldest of the guests of honor at age 81, was one of the few who made a personal connection with Robinson before he passed away in 1972, as well as with Rachel. She will turn 100 years old on July 19, the same day that the 2022 MLB All-Star Game will be held at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

“I was 7 years old when he came to the Brooklyn Dodgers, and I did admit to Rachel that I didn’t like her husband very much; I was a New York Giants fan,” Torre said. “But I admired Jackie. [He] played the infield, played the outfield, did anything that was necessary to help his team win. And he was fierce.

“I [had] the privilege of meeting Jackie about a year and a half before he passed. He had a presence. He’d light up a room. He stood for more than baseball, obviously. And our society right now should embrace that and follow the example that Jackie gave us to follow.”

Pankey and her family have made that their central aim with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which Rachel established in 1973 to keep her late husband’s memory alive. The foundation administers one of the nation’s premier scholarship and leadership development programs for college students from a minority background.

“Carrying his legacy forward is the most important job that we have as his grandchildren.” Pankey said. “… [We seek] to ensure that the children of the next generation understand the commitment and the sacrifice he made to social change.”

Jackie Robinson Way will be one of those reminders, a visible symbol of the debt owed to those who came before and the inspiration they provide for all those who come after.