By John Boyle
When the Mariners and Rangers play this evening, they’ll do so with every player and coach wearing No. 42 on the back of their jerseys as Major League Baseball celebrates the legacy of Jackie Robinson, who on April 15, 1947, broke baseball’s color barrier when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The significance of this day isn’t lost on anyone in baseball, but Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is someone who feels especially connected with Robinson’s legacy.
“Obviously Jackie is the reason I’m sitting here, and a lot of other folks are sitting in the position that they’re sitting in,” McClendon said. “I’ll wear it with pride, it’s very significant. Probably lost in all of this is the struggles he really went through… What a tremendous human being to withstand the things he went through. What was really important about that was that he was tough enough not to fight back, that meant a lot. I’ll be proud to put on that uniform.”
McClendon was himself a part of breaking down racial barriers in baseball as a member of the Gary, Indiana Little League team that became the first all-African American team to play in the Little League World Series.
“Obviously I was 12 years old at the time, but I vividly remember the headlines in the papers,” he said. “Back then they said, ‘First all-Negro Little League team to make it to the Little League World Series.’ Obviously we didn’t know the significance of that, but I guess for the first time I realized I was a Negro and not black. I was 12-years old and was like, ‘Wow, all-Negro Little League team?’”
McClendon said he and his Gary teammates were treated well at the Little League World Series, and weren’t aware of the “political ramifications” of their presence in Williamsport, Pa.
“It was fabulous, but listen, I was 12 years old, so the political ramifications…” he said. “We were just like everybody else chasing the girls around, sneaking over the fence at night. It was no different.”