Tribe proud to wear Robinson's No. 42

Indians proud to honor Robinson

KANSAS CITY -- When Indians manager Eric Wedge put on his No. 42 jersey Wednesday, the significance of Jackie Robinson Day hit him with all the force of a Kerry Wood fastball.

As an aficionado of not only baseball history but history in general, Wedge fully appreciates the impact on society that Robinson had in breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball 62 years ago.

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"You have to understand why the game is where it is today and where it has come from," Wedge said. "The biggest thing about Jackie Robinson, for me, is not necessarily what he did for the game of baseball, but what he did for society.

"It's not just about baseball, it's American history. It's something the game and the Jackie Robinson family should be very proud of."

Since 2004, Major League Baseball has honored Robinson's legacy as the first African-American to break the color barrier with a day dedicated to his memory. Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

For the first time, all MLB players, coaches and umpires wore Robinson's No. 42 on Wednesday. Last year, more than 330 players and on-field staff had worn No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day.

"For [Major League Baseball] to recognize him and honor him on a regular basis is very important, and I think they've done a good job of it," Wedge said.

Reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee also was happy to don No. 42 on Wednesday as a tribute to Robinson's legacy.

"Jackie Robinson paved the way for a lot of African-American and Latino baseball players," Lee said. "It all started with him. He opened the door for so many."

The Jackie Robinson Day ceremonies at Kauffman Stadium prior to Wednesday's Royals-Indians game had a Cleveland angle, as former Indians right-hander Jim "Mudcat" Grant was in the Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat. Grant, who pitched for the Indians from 1958-1964, has dedicated himself to studying and promoting the history of African-Americans in baseball.

"Larry Doby signed right after Jackie and he was the first African-American in the American League," Grant said. "Larry was my roommate with the Indians. It triggers so many memories."

Indians outfielder Ben Francisco said it was an honor for him to wear Robinson's No. 42.

"He's the reason I'm able to play baseball today," Francisco said. "Because of people like Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali -- guys who stood for something.

"Whether it's the African-American players or the Latin players, we know that without all the adversity that Jackie Robinson went through, we wouldn't have a chance to do what we're doing in this game and make a living playing baseball. I think it's definitely fitting that everybody wears Jackie Robinson's number on this day."

Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.