Yankees unveil Mandela plaque

NEW YORK -- There have been few press conferences at Yankee Stadium like the one held Wednesday, and few ceremonies like the one the New York Yankees put on Wednesday night.

The connection to baseball was slight, but it was enough.

As the Yankees honored Nelson Mandela, Yankees president Randy Levine said, "There's nobody more deserving of being in Monument Park."

The Yankees unveiled Mandela's plaque between games of their day-night doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs, adding it next to those honoring former Yankee stars, owners and announcers, and also the three Popes who have appeared at the stadium.

Mandela appeared at the old stadium on June 21, 1990, on his first trip outside of Africa after being released from prison. Reports at the time said that the stadium rocked with a chant of "Amandla!" the Zulu word for power.

During that trip to New York, Mandela put on a Yankee jacket and Yankee cap, and said, "You know who I am. I am a Yankee."

The Yankees kept those words in mind, and after Mandela died last year, they knew they wanted to honor him.

The ceremony, originally scheduled for Tuesday to coordinate with Jackie Robinson Day (but delayed a day because of rain), attracted a star cast, including David Dinkins, the New York mayor who hosted Mandela in 1980; Harry Belafonte, the entertainer who coordinated Mandela's visit; the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Zondwa Mandela, Nelson Mandela's grandson, flew in from South Africa. Rachel Robinson (Jackie's widow) and Sharon Robinson (their daughter) also took part.

"To bring together the Mandela and Robinson legacies is terrific," Sharon Robinson said.

The Yankees like to see their own legacy as being about more than just baseball, and they see Monument Park as commemorating more than just a baseball team. The park also features a Sept. 11 tribute.

"It is so important that [Mandela] be remembered forever," Dinkins said. "There in Monument Park, a lot of folks will say, 'Who's that?' That's Nelson Mandela."

He stood in Yankee Stadium 24 years ago. Now he's part of the stadium forever.

"This was such a great moment," Levine said. "And this is the only honor that was appropriate."