Washington Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker was born on June 15, 1949, two years and two months after the day Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier by becoming the first African-American to play in a Major League Baseball game on April 15, 1947.
Robinson’s now iconic No. 42 is retired around baseball, featured on signs in every park around the majors, including Nationals Park, where it’s on the facade below the second deck in right field, and since 2009, all major league players have worn his number on April 15th.
Baker, now 67, met with reporters this morning in the nation’s capital, sporting a pair of pristine white No. 42 wristbands in place of the usual self-referential wristbands he dons during games.
He talked briefly about Major League Baseball celebrating Jackie Robinson Day today, and what the day means to him.
“It means to me that we talk about it every year [on] this day,” Baker said, “but to me, no big deal, because every day is Jackie Robinson Day to me.”
“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in baseball and I wouldn’t be working as a player and I wouldn’t have this job.
“So, it’s great to think about it and to hold the guys in high esteem but every day is Jackie Robinson Day to me.”
His first memories of Robinson, Baker said, came when he was still only a few years old.
“Shoot, I don’t know what year that was. I was born two years after,” Baker recalled.
“I was born in ‘49, but it had to be ‘50-something, watching the Dodgers, listening to my dad — the old movie, “The Jackie Robinson Story”, you know, with Ruby Dee, in black and white, and that’s what I probably first remember.”
“I remember I was shocked at the “Court Martial of Jackie Robinson”, which is another movie on why he got court-martialed. Those are my first memories of him.”
Having all of MLB’s players wear No. 42, Baker said, is, “... a great gesture to remember Jackie Robinson forever.”
He came up in the majors with players who played alongside Robinson or were inspired by his story.
“Hank Aaron used to tell me that that’s what motivated him as a kid,” Baker said, “that Jackie Robinson played down in Mobile, [Alabama] when he was 10-12 years old — I don’t know exactly how old he was — which motivated him and motivated a bunch of guys, and then I was around Jim Gilliam, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, and a lot of the dudes at that time that were there with Jackie and because of Jackie, so I could go on for a long time, but I urge everybody else to do their homework, cause I’m not going to do it for you.
“Just read up on it. My family watched every movie there was about Jackie Robinson.
“I’ve educated my son about Jackie Robinson. I have a Jackie Robison wall at my house, in my weight room, there’s Jackie on his wall, along with me, so, it’s just that I’m not that overly happy about it because I think we should do this every day instead of just one day a year.”