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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Soulful Seasons (Jackie Robinson Edition)

I'm hesitant to say it, but Bud Selig has solidified a pretty impressive legacy. The Wild Card has been wildly successful. Interleague play still has some kinks, but it has created some exciting midseason dramas. The competition has rarely been more balanced. Money is rolling in. A repeat of the '94 strike has been avoided. And, now, perhaps his greatest achievement, an institutional enshrining of Jackie Robinson, whose number (#42) Selig retired a decade ago. Jackie Robinson Day - it's officially my favorite holiday. This year, the holiday's inauguration was marked by a lavish ceremony preceding the Sunday night game at Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles, as well as the opportunity for any player in the league to wear #42, which for most has not been available during their careers. Several games were postponed due to the Atlantic noreaster, but these are Sunday's most soulful performances featuring #42. And, by the way, Selig made it possible for anybody to choose to wear #42, so anybody who chose not to, well...that's just abominable, criminal even. For today at least, they haven't even the potential for soulfulness.

C. C. Sabathia - SP - Clevland Indians

It was Sabathia who early this season called the declining number of African American ballplayers a "crisis," blamed the MLB for pourly scouting in urban neighborhoods, and commentated that his Oakland-based primarily black high school team could've beat his first minor league club. Sabathia backed up bold words with a fast start. And on Jackie Robinson Day he threw 8 innings against a potent White Sox lineup, fanning 10 and giving up only 5 hits and one run, which was driven in by another #42, Jermaine Dye.

Rich Harden - SP - Oakland Athletics

Harden was one of very few caucasian players who chose to wear #42 (other than those on teams which wore it unanimously), and what better way to celebrate Jackie Robinson than throwing six dominant innings against the evil, evil Yankees. His bullpen might've found a way to lose the game nonetheless were it not for the heroics of Marcus "Pee Wee" Scuturo.

Tony Clark - 1B - Arizona Diamondbacks

The big, soft-spoken Clark provides one of the few veteran presences on the Baby Backs, but he rarely starts anymore, since the emergence of Conor Jackson. But on Jackie Robinson Day, manager Bob Melvin had a good feeling about the gentle giant. Clark blasted a pair of home runs, driving in three, and lifting the D-Backs past the Rockies, who were shamefully lacking in #42's.

Tony LaRussa - Manager - St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis game against the Brewers was the only which featured all 50 players, plus coaching staffs, dawning Jackie's numbers, which is probably how it should have gone down everywhere. If you think LaRussa, one of the great students of baseball history, didn't have anything to do with the decision, you're denser than Tim McCarver. Milwaukee manager Ned Yost is something of a LaRussa mentee, who I'm sure wouldn't have hesitated to comply with Tony's soft Sicilian suggestions. Tony felt it was important to honor Robinson, and when Tony thinks something is especially important, Prince Albert likes to hit two home runs.

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