Phillies, Astros pay tribute to Jackie Robinson

Updated: April 23, 2007, 8:29 PM ET
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies and Astros traded in their usual uniform numbers for Jackie Robinson's "42" on Monday night to honor the man who broke baseball's color barrier.

Robinson's son says baseball and its players can do much more.

David Robinson wants all of baseball to honor his father's legacy more than one day a year. He's calling for all teams to contribute to the Jackie Robinson Fund, founded by his mother, Rachel, to provide education opportunities for academically strong and financially limited minorities.

"This is an opportunity to show the foundation is the living legacy of the man we're honoring today," Robinson said before Monday night's Houston-Philadelphia game.

Robinson, the youngest of Jackie and Rachel Robinson's three children, said less than 40 percent of the teams contributed to the fund and less than 5 percent of all players. He said holding a Jackie Robinson Day isn't enough to honor a man who devoted his life to social change.

"It doesn't make us social changers, we're just historians honoring the past," Robinson said. "We're not changing problems that exist and we can do that by all of us making a contribution to the man who made this game great."

The Phillies celebrated Jackie Robinson Day eight days late because rain washed out the pregame ceremony planned for April 15.

Robinson, who runs a coffee business in Tanzania, threw out the ceremonial first pitch Monday. The Phillies also honored the four living members of the Philadelphia Stars, a Negro League team; members of the Tuskegee Airman; and Jim Ellis, a school teacher who started a swim team for troubled teens that was the inspiration for the recent movie "Pride."

"We should all be honored that we are remembering a hero," Robinson said. "It's time to look at where we are today and know there are still tremendous issues with a lesser percentage of African-American representation today."

The amount of black players in the big leagues has dwindled in recent years -- only 8.4 percent of major leaguers last season, according to one study. Robinson chatted before the game with Phillies Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Michael Bourn and coach Milt Thompson behind the batting cage, and said he hoped they would become more involved with the foundation.

The 60th anniversary of Robinson's major league debut was observed at other stadiums on April 15. More than 200 players, managers and coaches wore Jackie Robinson's No. 42 that day.

"For what he's done, it's bigger than just baseball," Howard said. "It helped changed the world."

Every player on the Astros and Phillies wore jersey No. 42, without their name on the back.

"You only hope you can go out there and represent the number the way he wore it," Howard said.

Each team got the celebration off to a flying start.

Houston's Craig Biggio hit Adam Eaton's first pitch of the game into the left field stands for his 51st career leadoff home run. Rollins tied the score with his 19th career leadoff homer off Chris Sampson.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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