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New plaque unveiled paying tribute to Robinson's cultural impact

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- It was simply time for the Hall of Fame to recognize Jackie Robinson's real mark on baseball.

Nearly a half-century after he was inducted into the Hall, the late Brooklyn Dodgers great received a rare honor Wednesday -- a new plaque that pays tribute to the cultural impact he had on the game and the country as the first black player in the major leagues.

"A very important part of Jack's life has been acknowledged today in a more total way," Robinson's 86-year-old wife, Rachel, said at a brief unveiling ceremony in the Hall of Fame Gallery.

"As he said nearly 46 years ago, those of us who are fortunate to receive such an honor must use it to help others. That was a great theme in his life," she said.

The new plaque adds "Jackie" under his full name, Jack Roosevelt Robinson, and the inscription is more detailed than the original: "A player of extraordinary ability renowned for his electrifying style of play. Over 10 seasons hit .311, scored more than 100 runs six times, named to six All-Star teams and led Brooklyn to six pennants and its only World Series title, in 1955. The 1947 Rookie of the Year, and the 1949 N.L. MVP when he hit a league-best .342 with 37 steals. Led second basemen in double plays four times and stole home 19 times."

The final sentence is a fitting epitaph for Robinson, who died in 1972 at age 53: "Displayed tremendous courage and poise in 1947 when he integrated the modern major leagues in the face of intense adversity."

"As young people view Jack's new Hall of Fame plaque, they will look beyond statistics and embrace all that Jack has meant and all that they can be," said Rachel Robinson, flanked by daughter Sharon and nearly 200 fans. "We want it to be an inspiration, not something to take pictures of. We wanted to give them a sense of direction."

On Robinson's original plaque, unveiled at his induction in 1962, there was no mention that he broke baseball's color barrier, only a listing of his achievements on the field. That was by design.

"He told baseball writers that when considering his candidacy, they should only consider his playing ability -- what his impact was on the playing field," Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark said.

The Hall of Fame has adjusted plaques over the years because of factual errors, but very rarely for subjective reasons, Clark said.

"We do feel very strongly that rewriting Jackie Robinson's plaque is extremely important," she said. "There is no person more central or more important to the history of baseball for his pioneering ways. His impact on our game is not fully defined without the mention of his extreme courage."

Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said the change had been discussed for several years, but nothing was done until Rachel Robinson contacted Hall of Famer Joe Morgan to put the process in motion.

"I think he would understand now, that we need to go beyond that and we need to think in terms of social change in America," Rachel Robinson said. "He would want a part in that. I don't think he would object."

Neither would former Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey, who signed the former Kansas City Monarchs star and brought him to the major leagues on April, 15, 1947.

"We have been up in Cloud 9 since the election," Jackie Robinson said in his induction speech. "I don't ever think I'll come down."

This year also marks the 35th anniversary of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which Rachel Robinson established in 1973 to perpetuate her husband's legacy.

The Jackie Robinson Foundation has provided four-year college scholarships and extensive mentoring and leadership training to more than 1,200 minority students who have demonstrated academic achievement, leadership capacity and financial need.