Presented on Jackie Robinson Day, the bronze sculpture with a granite base honored the trailblazing athlete and humanitarian who broke the color barrier exactly 70 years prior. But the symbolism only started there.
Robinson's journey was long and often arduous, so the sculpture depicts him at the outset of his career, when his road to helping diversity began. That he is frozen in time stealing home is no accident, either, as the action reflects both bravery and an aggressive nature, two traits that helped Robinson on his historic path.
Having the statue on the reserve level on the third-base side was a prerequisite because that is the most trafficked entry at Dodger Stadium, and that gives as many fans as possible the chance to see it.
The Robinson statue is the first in what president and CEO Stan Kasten plans to be a series of sculptures honoring Dodgers greats. His decision to start the project with Robinson was a simple one.
"Every advancement in society has come from people standing on the shoulders of giants," Kasten told a crowd of baseball dignitaries and Robinson family members at the statue's unveiling. "In the history of baseball, in the history of our country, few people have stood taller than Jackie Robinson. Jackie stood for excellence on the field, he stood for excellence off the field, but mostly he stood for the proposition that all human beings deserve their dignity, respect and fair treatment at all times."
Others to take the dais at the ceremony included longtime and recently retired broadcaster Vin Scully, baseball icon Frank Robinson and NBA legend and Dodgers part owner Magic Johnson. Also on hand was Robinson's 94-year-old widow, Rachel, as well as two of the couple's children, Sharon and David. Dodgers greats such as Sandy Koufax, Steve Garvey, Tommy Lasorda, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser were present as well.
Scully told a longtime favorite yarn of an offseason promotional event in New York when he was a young broadcaster and Robinson was one of the Dodgers' top players. Scully and Robinson were to both ice skate, and Robinson challenged Scully to a race, even though he had never laced up skates. Scully's message in telling the story was to challenge yourself even in the face of the unknown.
He then told a second tale, one that had a direct connection to every game played in the major leagues on Saturday, when all players wore the No. 42. In 1950, Robinson received a specific death threat for a Sunday game in Cincinnati. The mood before the game was somber until one player spoke up.
"The Dodgers had a young left fielder by the name of Gene Hermanski, and Gene was colorful, bright, blond, white and full of you-know-what," Scully said. "And in this quiet atmosphere in the clubhouse, Gene suddenly says, 'I've got it!' He said, 'We'll all wear No. 42, and they'll never know which one is Jackie Robinson.'"
That game was played without incident, and the only player to wear No. 42 that day was Robinson. On Saturday, however, everybody wore Robinson's number.
"In 2004, Gene Hermanski's words from 1950 came to fruition," Scully said. "'We'll all wear No. 42.' And all across the country, every player will be wearing No. 42."
While a number of Robinson statues exist around the country, including at UCLA and Pasadena, where he was born and raised, none had been commissioned by the Dodgers until now. The one revealed Saturday was sculpted by Oakland-based artist Branly Cadet, who pained over the details.
"I think in order to achieve a likeness of someone, you have to be hyper-critical," Cadet said. "Fortunately, I have the family to bounce the images off of."
Despite the statue's rising 77 inches and weighing 700 pounds, the likeness of Robinson is striking in its accuracy. The uniform is rumpled in harmony with Robinson's actions, and the details even include Robinson's shoe bent backward as it drags along the dirt at the beginning of his slide.
On the 34,000-pound granite base that rises 30 inches, three famous Robinson quotes are inscribed:
"A life is not important except the impact it has on other lives."
"I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me ... All I ask is that you respect me as a human being."
"There is not an American in this country free until every one of us is free."
Robinson's playing days ended in 1956, and he died in 1972, but the Dodger Stadium statue will be a constant reminder of what he accomplished, both on and, especially, off the field.
"It is our hope that the statue will be a reminder to kids and adults that life is a glorious challenge filled with stolen bases and strikeouts," Sharon Robinson said. "And that it will inspire each of us to fight back against injustice, build strong communities, take risks and embrace the beautiful diversity that is this great nation."
|Jackie Robinson's playing days ended in 1956, but the Dodger Stadium statue will be a constant reminder of what he accomplished, both on and, especially, off the field. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports|
Listen to Vin Scully tell one of his very favorite stories about Jackie Robinson and the No. 42
No baseball figure alive has a closer connection to Jackie Robinson than iconic broadcaster Vin Scully. His stories of their meaningful times together enthralled fans for decades prior to his 2016 retirement, and his voice is still missed from the airwaves.
Fortunately, Jackie Robinson Day provided an opportunity for Scully to briefly return to deliver another memorable story about the legend. To celebrate the 70th anniversary of Robinson's debut, the Dodgers unveiled a statue of him at Dodger Stadium. Scully was invited to speak and, as seen in the video above, he decided to tell a story that foretold one of MLB's best traditions: that every player would wear number 42 on April 15.
It all started with an outfielder named Gene Hermanski, Robinson's teammate dating back to his very debut (Hermanski played left field on that fateful day in 1947). According to Scully, Robinson had already been on the Dodgers for a few years, but he still received hate mail.
On one road trip into Cincinnati's Crosley Field, Robinson received a particularly scary death threat. There was a pall over the visitor's locker room as the Dodgers prepared for the game. Scully recalled how, undeterred by the silence, the happy-go-lucky Hermanski spoke up with a solution for the man he admired so much.
"Gene suddenly said, 'I've got it!'
Everyone looked, and they said, 'What?'
He said, 'We'll all wear number 42, and they'll never know which one is Jackie Robinson!'"
Hermanski's remark broke the tension, and thankfully, nothing happened that day.
Little did Hermanski know that his words were, in a way, prophetic. MLB retired the number 42 across baseball on April 15, 1997, but Mariners star Ken Griffey Jr. quickly inspired a new tradition by requesting to wear Robinson's number on the anniversary of his debut, both in 1997 and 2007. In 2009, MLB formally recognized Robinson by having everyone around baseball don number 42, just as Griffey did.
So now, all players wear 42 on April 15, preserving Robinson's tradition, and to a lesser extent, Hermanski's idea. Baseball is truly a better place with Scully keeping these stories alive.