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Baseball honors Jackie Robinson

clinton and robinson

Commissioner retires No. 42

April 15, 1997
Web posted at: 11:36 p.m. EDT (0336 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Standing in the infield at Shea Stadium, President Bill Clinton honored baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson Tuesday as a man who "changed the face of baseball and America" 50 years ago.

Clinton's appearance capped a 50th anniversary tribute to Major League baseball's first African-American player. Robinson broke the color barrier, overcoming a barrage of racist abuse, on April 15, 1947.

movie iconPresident Clinton pays tribute to Jackie Robinson
at the 50th anniversary game in his honor
(49 sec. /448K QuickTime movie)

And as the president noted, Robinson's precedent had profound implications not just for sports, but for society at large.

Also on hand was Robinson's widow, Rachel, and his grandson, Jesse Sims, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers.


'America is stronger'

"America is a stronger, richer country when we all work together and give everyone a chance," Clinton told the crowd after the fifth inning. "Robinson's legacy didn't end with baseball. He knew that education, not sports, was the key to success in life." (31 sec. /704K AIFF or WAV sound)icon

Despite the gains made by the civil rights movement, Robinson's message of inclusion still applies to contemporary society, Clinton said. "We can achieve equality on the playing field, but we need to establish it in the boardrooms of America."

Rachel Robinson added, "This is a great tribute to a more equitable society."

Acting Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig also joined the tribute.


"No single person is bigger than the game of baseball, no one except Jackie Robinson," he said. "He remains bigger than the game."

As a tribute, Selig announced that the number on Robinson's jersey, No. 42, would be retired. Athletes now wearing the number may continue to do so, but it won't be reissued. (51 sec. /1.1M AIFF or WAV sound)icon

Jackie Robinson Parkway

Also Tuesday, a five-mile-long thoroughfare leading from Brooklyn to the statium in Queens was renamed the Jackie Robinson Parkway. The road passes through the cemetery where Robinson was buried in 1972.


Smithsonian officials unveiled an exhibit honoring Robinson this week at the National Museum of American History. The exhibit opened a day after Tiger Woods won the Masters golf tournament, becoming the first African-American to win a major golf tournament.

Robinson was a stellar athlete in his field, with a lifetime batting average of .329. But Robinson's accomplishment's were groundbreaking in other ways.

By gracefully handling the challenge of integration, he shattered the conventional wisdom of the day that blacks and whites should remain separated.

"If you were arguing the integration side of the argument, you could always play the Jackie Robinson card and watch the big husky redneck shut up, because there was nothing they could say," Clinton said in a radio address.

When Robinson broke into the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, there was no civil rights movement in America. It was a year before President Truman desegregated the armed forces.


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