Valentine on Robinson: Baseball needed him

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Valentine on Robinson: Baseball needed him

BOSTON -- Major League Baseball will pay tribute to the late Jackie Robinson Sunday, with players on every team wearing uniform No. 42 in honor of the player who broke the color barrier in baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers 65 years ago.

"Obviously, Jackie Robinson did what was needed for the game of baseball and did what was needed for America,'' said manager Bobby Valentine. "He was exactly the right guy to do the exact right thing. (Former Dodgers executive) Branch Rickey chose him and he took a big step forward for mankind.''

Valentine has more of a connection to Robinson than most. Robinson lived in Stamford, Conn., Valentine's hometown, after his retirement and Valentine met him on several occasions.

After Robinson passed away, Valentine came to know Robinson's widow Rachel and his daughter Sharon in several charitable endeavors.

Further, Valentine's father-in-law, former Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca, was a teammate of Robinson's.

"Ralph's the last living member of the 1947 Dodger team,'' said Valentine. "Ralph was one of those guys that welcomed him . . . Ralph's talked about those experiences as much as anything he's talked about in his life. It was obviously traumatic. Ralph takes great pride in being part of what was going on then and understanding the difference between right and wrong.''

Valentine has heard lots of stories from Robinson's first few seasons and "most of them were ugly. Most of the things that Ralph related were things that I'm anything but proud to have heard. But he endured. It's really amazing. There are books and movies and legend but I think what Jackie did is beyond all of that.''

Valentine was manager of the New York Mets when MLB officially retired Robinson's No. 42 and remembers that as "one of the great days for baseball.''

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