M’s McClendon could not be prouder to wear Jackie Robinson’s number

SEATTLE — The significance of April 15 is known to everyone in Major League Baseball, but Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is someone who feels especially connected with Jackie Robinson’s legacy.

In Seattle’s game at Texas, and throughout baseball Tuesday, players and coaches wore Robinson’s No. 42 on their backs, honoring the man who in 1947 broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier. McClendon said prior to this week’s road trip that he couldn’t be prouder to wear Robinson’s number.

“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.”

When Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers 67 years ago, he didn’t just pave the way for baseball to become a more diverse sport, he helped change a country’s racial landscape, all while enduring significant abuse. That, McClendon said, shouldn’t be forgotten as baseball celebrates Robinson’s legacy.

“Probably lost in all of this is the struggles he really went through,” McClendon said. “… 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. As a kid he didn’t realize the significance of that tournament, which saw the Gary team reach the final before losing to a team from Taiwan, but he does remember race being a part of his team’s story.

“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 teammates were treated well at the Little League World Series, and weren’t aware of the “political ramifications” of their presence in Williamsport, Pa. Instead, they just had a good time like the rest of the kids involved.

“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.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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