Yankees Honor Mandela, Jackie Robinson
By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, APRIL 17- On April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of the first game played by Jack Roosevelt Robinson in the major leagues, Baseball Commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig announced the retirement of Robinson’s #42 from Major League Baseball. On that date in every year since 1997, all players in a scheduled game wear the #42 to honor Robinson’s accomplishment of breaking the color barrier. With the retirement of Mariano Rivera at the close of the 2013 season, there are no longer any active p[layers wearing #42.
Inclement weather in the Bronx forced the delay of the April 15 game between the Yankees and Cubs, the ceremony and the press conference for the one day, but did not in any way lessen the meaning of the day of remembrance.
This year’s special Robinson ceremony took place at Yankee Stadium to honor not only Robinson but former South African President Nelson Mandela. The New York Yankees added a plaque honoring Mandela in Monument Park. Many remember Mandela’s appearance at Yankee Stadium on June 21, 1990, shortly after his 27 year imprisonment in South Africa ended. On that day, wearing a Yankee jacket and cap, Mandela remarked to the crowd, ‘’You know who I am. I am a Yankee.’’
That day and Mandela’s subsequent accomplishments as South Africa’s president were recalled in a press conference that featured many prominent speakers who paid tribute to his deeds.
Zondwa Mandela, the grandson of the world leader who died at the age of 95 in December 2013, expressed his gratitude to the Yankees, and referred to himself as ‘’just a custodian of his [Mandela’s] legacy.”
Also present were South Africa’s Consul General, George Monyemangene, and Sello Hatang, Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO. The latter asked the Yankees to honor Mandela on July 18, Nelson Mandela Day.
Others who spoke in honor of Mandela included former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, the Reverands Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton, Harry Belafonte, New York Yankees President Randy Levine and Robinson’s daughter, Sharon.
Yankee Managing Partner Hal Steinbrenner presented a matted copy of Mandela’s plaque to Mandela’s grandson and wife. The plaque will join those of Robinson, Yankees immortals and world leaders such as Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI in Monument Park.
The centerpiece of the annual ceremony was, as always, a recognition of Robinson’s deed. His widow, Rachel, and daughter, Sharon, were present to enhance the remembrance of their loved one.
To put the achievement of Jackie Robinson in historical perspective, we should recognize that he integrated MLB before it was accomplished in the NFL or NBA, seven years before the Supreme Court decision on Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, 16 years before the memorable March on Washington and 17 years before Congress passed the Civil Rights Acts during the administration of President Lyndon Johnson.
In his introductory words at the informative, inspirational and educational press conference, New York Yankees Executive Director of Communications and Media Relations Jason Zilo linked the legacies of the two honorees, “Bringing people of all backgrounds and demographics together.”