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Jackie Robinson Celebrated Amid Decline of Black Players in MLB

MLB celebrates "Jackie Robinson Day," the annual tradition marking the debut of major league's first black iconic player.
Brooklyn Dodgers' infielder Jackie Robinson is shown in this April 18, 1948 file photo. (AP Photo)
Brooklyn Dodgers' infielder Jackie Robinson is shown in this April 18, 1948 file photo. (AP Photo)HH / AP, file
/ Source: NBC News

One of baseball's most iconic figures, Jackie Robinson was celebrated yesterday — from ballparks around the nation to outer space. Robinson's jersey was retired in 1997, but in 2005 former MLB commissioner Bud Selig mandated that players and coaches would wear the number 42 each year on April 15. The date marks Robinson's debut as a Brooklyn Dodger in 1947, becoming the first black player in the major leagues.

Pee Wee Reese once said to Robinson in a statement of solidarity, "Maybe one day we will all wear 42. That way they won’t be able to tell us apart.”

Robinson was named Rookie of the Year in 1947, National League MVP in 1949 and a World Series champ in 1955. Robinson retired from the league in 1957 and passed away in 1972. His ability to stand stoically in the face of adversity and racism has placed him in the history books as a champion and victor of civil rights.

Astronaut Terry Virts posted a message on from space, saying that Robinson endured unimaginable things and did it, "while maintaining composure that most of us couldn't begin to muster."

In Los Angeles, Rachel Robinson, Jackie's wife, threw out the first pitch at the annual Civil Rights Game at Dodger Stadium. This year honorees included Robinson, NBA legend Magic Johnson, Delores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers and baseball Hall of Famer, Frank Robinson.

Former Dodger player Sandy Koufax, left, stands with Rachel Robinson, widow of Jackie Robinson, to honor her husband at the mound prior to a baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Seattle Mariners on Jackie Robinson Day in Los Angeles, Wednesday, April 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)Alex Gallardo / AP

Dodgers president, Stan Kasten, announced that Robinson's statue would be erected in the near future, the first in a series of installments. “I’ve been waiting 20 years for this,” Rachel Robinson said. “It’s the fulfillment of a dream.” Details on the look and location of the statue are unknown at this time.

Fans, players and reporter of baseball payed respect to the enigmatic player on social media, posting photos of themselves proudly sporting the number 42. Others shared messages and quotes remembering Robinson's legacy.

Today baseball still faces struggles with adversity. USA Today Sports reported that African-American's make up only 7.8 percent of major league baseball, according to opening day rosters and disabled lists. MLB is making strides to address the issue, creating the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program which serves 200,000 youth. The program provides disadvantaged teenagers with the opportunity to play baseball, learn life skills and attend academic programs.

Rob Manfred, MLB commissioner is excited about future progress to be more inclusive. "You've got to go through a couple of (draft) cycles until you see any improvement," Manfred told USA Today. "It took us awhile to get to where we find ourselves. And quite frankly, it might have come faster than we had hoped."