MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Manfred looks ahead to 70th anniversary of Jackie's debut

Manfred looks ahead to 70th anniversary of Jackie's debut

NEW YORK -- Commissioner Rob Manfred was at Yankee Stadium on Friday night to celebrate the 69th anniversary of Jackie Robinson forever shattering the color barrier in American sports and society.

Next year's 70th anniversary of Robinson playing first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, will be special as well.

"We have started talking about the 70th anniversary," Manfred said prior to the Mariners-Yankees game. "We're not in a position to say exactly what we're going to do, but I think that some of things we've done this year are probably indicative of what we're going to do next year, particularly the strengthening and the expansion of our relationship with the Jackie Robinson Foundation. It's very important to us."

On Friday, MLB celebrated Robinson in the 15 ballparks where games were played. Robinson's widow, Rachel, and daughter, Sharon, joined the festivities at Dodger Stadium.

On the 50th anniversary in 1997, Commissioner Bud Selig honored Robinson's legacy by retiring his No. 42 in perpetuity throughout the sport.

Nearly a decade later, Ken Griffey Jr. asked permission from Selig to honor Robinson by wearing No. 42 in an anniversary game. Griffey, who will join Robinson in the Hall of Fame along with Mike Piazza on July 24, wrote a letter to Selig, who granted Griffey permission.

Griffey, then playing for the Reds, wore six different No. 42 jerseys in the game on April 15, 2007. He had plans for each of the uniform tops.

"The first one is going to Rachel," Griffey said at the time.

The concept became widespread in succeeding years as Selig encouraged other players to adopt wearing Robinson's number. Again on Friday, all Major League players donned a jersey with No. 42 stitched on it.

Manfred said that Selig's decision to encourage this was twofold.

"One, for the players, they would have to stop and think and realize that today's different," Manfred said. "Anywhere any of them were going to look on that field, same thing, 42. And maybe even more important, to the fans, right? It's a constant reminder that today's different and hopefully one of those reminders will get you thinking of something bigger."

To commemorate Manfred's second Jackie Robinson Day as Commissioner, he wrote an eloquent letter to the fans telling them why he thought the occasion was so important. He said the event was particularly memorable this year because he spent four hours this past Monday and Tuesday with his wife, watching the Robinson biography by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon on PBS.

Manfred said he was particularly moved by the documentary.

"It was just amazingly well done," Manfred said. "I knew a lot about his entry into baseball, and Jackie's struggles in that regard. I learned a lot about the rest of his life and how much good he did in terms of the Civil Rights movement, generally. I think it teaches a lesson about accepting people's good intentions and not making judgments on how they need to effectuate those intentions."

Manfred also said he's continuously impressed by the grace of Rachel Robinson, who founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which grants college scholarships to minority students and is trying to open a museum depicting Robinson's life and baseball career in lower Manhattan.

This week, MLB agreed to continue to sponsor 30 such scholarships in the names of each club and donated $1 million toward efforts to open the museum.

Rachel and her family have almost single-handedly kept the spirit of Robinson alive since his death at 53 on Oct. 24, 1972.

"I said this about Rachel in the letter," Manfred said. "I frequently get to spend time with her. Rachel went with us to Cuba. I did an event with her last week. She's an amazing woman. She is a treasure not for just baseball, but for America. Her voice in the documentary was something that really struck me."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.