Tigers wear No. 42 to honor Robinson
Detroit commemorates 60th anniversary of famous date
TORONTO -- Curtis Granderson knows plenty about Jackie Robinson's place in baseball history, and he was ready for Sunday's tribute to be something touching. But something in the tribute shown on the giant video board at Rogers Centre even caught him by surprise.
"The big thing that stuck out for me," Granderson said, "was the letter that they showed saying that they would kill him if he played. Just little stuff, to see how someone would have to go through all that stuff, knowing the threats that he got day in and day out. And not only to step on the field, but to play the way he did and get Rookie of the Year for the way he played, that was the big thing. That kind of hit home."
Introduced in 2004, Jackie Robinson Day was created to honor the enduring impact of Jackie Robinson and his legacy as the first African-American player to break the Major League color barrier. Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Robinson breaking the Major League color barrier in 1997, Robinson's uniform number, 42, was retired throughout the Major Leagues.
Robinson's memory lives on today in initiatives such as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was founded by his wife, Rachel Robinson, in 1973 to provide education and leadership development opportunities for minority students with strong capabilities but limited financial resources, as well as Breaking Barriers, which utilizes baseball-themed activities to reinforce literacy skills, mathematics, science and social history while addressing critical issues of character development such as conflict resolution and self-esteem.
The Tigers were visitors for the Jackie Robinson Day ceremonies, spectators as Toronto honored Robinson in a pregame assembly along the first-base line, but there were still moments like that which hit home for them as they tried to appreciate what Robinson endured.
Minutes later, as they took the field for the bottom of the first, they had another moment. Granderson went out to center field, Craig Monroe to left and Gary Sheffield playing right. All three were wearing No. 42, along with Marcus Thames -- scratched from Sunday's lineup with flu-like symptoms -- catcher Ivan Rodriguez and hitting coach Lloyd McClendon. It was a picture-perfect moment if they had a camera for it.
Craig Monroe spent his first three years in the Tigers organization trying to break into the starting outfield, eventually winning an everyday spot on the basis of production. He's still trying to fathom what Robinson had to do so that players could be evaluated on talent and not on color.
"For just tearing down those walls and really expanding this game to all, it's such a tremendous accomplishment," Monroe said. "Once I got a chance to finally get up here and play at the big-league level, I've really started to understand. I was a football and basketball guy [growing up], but there's so much passion for playing this game, and to pick up little bits [of history] and try to fathom a guy being so strong-minded and courageous, to break a barrier and go through all the things he did. In our day and age, I can't tell you that I would be able to do it.
"It's really tough. I'm accepted all around, so I wonder if I really know what that feels like. And I don't think I do, because I'm not being judged by the color of my skin. I'm being judged on how I perform. I'm glad that he went through for us so that I could enjoy [playing this game]."
Logic would say that once the game started, the players would slip into their in-game concentration and not think about wearing a different jersey number. But somehow, both Monroe and Sheffield said they were conscious of it, even during the game.
"It was a great feeling, just to know that you have it on your back," Sheffield said. "I was conscious of it when I was out there, and I'm just honored to be a part of it."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.