Phillies, Roberts remember Jackie
Hall of Fame pitcher recalls long relationship with Robinson
PHILADELPHIA -- Robin Roberts remembers Sept. 30, 1951, as the day Philadelphia nearly robbed baseball of one of its classic moments.If Roberts didn't surrender a 14th-inning home run to Jackie Robinson on the final day of the regular season, the Phillies might have beaten the Dodgers, thus ending their season without New York's Bobby Thomson breaking Brooklyn's hearts a week later with the "Shot Heard Round the World." Roberts, who lost the game the previous night to Don Newcombe, was pitching in his seventh inning of relief, because, well, that's what they did in those days. "He came up and hit one upstairs, and that's why the Dodgers were involved in that playoff they lost with the Giants," said Roberts, who was in town as part of the team's remembrance of Robinson on the 61st anniversary of his breaking of the color barrier. Roberts, 81, shared the unique perspective as someone who faced Robinson "40 more times than any other pitcher" and said that he allowed nine home runs to the Hall of Famer. Roberts debuted a year after Robinson, and remembered some resentment, but not quite what he expected. "The personal attacks died down," Roberts said. "The first year I wasn't there, and a lot of guys didn't want to play against him. It was obvious a lot of folks hadn't grown up where blacks were equal, and that took awhile to get out of their minds. When I came here in '48, it was still the black man playing ball, but there nearly wasn't the controversy connected to it." Roberts recalled a day when he went golfing with a group that included Robinson in Stamford, Conn. Robinson hit a drive into the sand trap, close to the green. Since it was buried, the golf pro offered to take the ball out. Robinson refused. "He said, 'Don't touch that. I put it there and I'll get it out,'" Roberts said. "And he did. Nothing describes Jackie Robinson better than that. He wanted no benefits from anybody."
And that, to Roberts, represented Robinson's legacy, and the Phillies celebrated that Tuesday. Jimmy Rollins and Houston's Michael Bourn and Cecil Cooper wore No. 42 in his honor."It means the world," Cooper said. "That's the guy who set the stage for me and the rest of us minorities. I'm tickled to have the opportunity to wear the uniform, to wear the number and heck, I hope people have the chance to see the number. It might be cold and I might have my jacket on. Maybe I'll take it off in the middle of the game. It's an honor to do that. I'm just pleased to be in a position to do it. It's a thrill." The Phillies held a pregame tribute and announced a new partnership with the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The team donated $40,000 to the organization's scholarship fund, and many of the student benefactors took part in the festivities. The four remaining players of the Philadelphia Stars -- catchers Bill Cash and Stanley Glenn, pitcher Harold Gould and second baseman Mahlon Duckett, also were on hand. The Stars played from 1934-50 and won the 1934 Negro League pennant. Glenn knew Robinson in 1945. "I've been in a lot of leagues, not only in America, but in Latin America and Canada, and many places around the world," Glenn said. "I've never met an example like Jackie Robinson. Educated? Yes. Staunchly built? Yes. If I were in a foxhole and wanted somebody next to me, it would probably be Jackie. That's saying an awful lot about a human being. If America did not have sports, and baseball in particular, I don't know what kind of country we would be. So keep on loving it, keep on supporting it and let the world continue to know that baseball is America's game." And Robinson's place in it will never be forgotten. "When I see him being honored, I hope people understand what a big impact he had on baseball and our country as a whole," Roberts said.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.