An impact greater than black and white

Batista in awe of Robinson

SEATTLE -- Jackie Robinson did much more than break the color line in baseball. As far as Seattle Mariners pitcher Miguel Batista is concerned, his legacy is that he allowed all players -- black, white, Latino, Asian, others -- to be judged by their skills, not their skin.

"I don't think Jackie broke the color barrier, I just think he made people color blind," said Batista, who wore No. 42 on Sunday in honor of the 60th anniversary of Robinson's path-blazing entry in the Major Leagues.

Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day at every MLB park where games were played. The Mariners showed a big-screen tribute to Robinson before the game against the Rangers. The late Hall of Famer made his big-league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field.

"Before it was black and white; now it's just grey. Now he's seen as a baseball player," Batista added. "I think that's the most important thing. More than bringing a person of color into the game, it was about looking at an athlete as an athlete.

"He made the scouting of a player to be neutral, to see a player as a player."

That's why even though Batista is from the Dominican Republic, he chose to honor Robinson because he opened the game for all players. Other Mariners to wear No. 42 Sunday were second baseman Jose Lopez, third baseman Adrian Beltre, outfielder Jason Ellison and pitcher Arthur Rhodes.

"I am proud to do that, even though I'm not African-American," said Beltre, also Dominican. "I came up in the Dodgers organization and I know how much Jackie Robinson meant to that organization.

"I'm a Latino. I didn't go through anything close to what he went through, but it's an honor for me to wear No. 42."

Rhodes, who along with Ellison is one of just two African-Americans on the Mariners' roster, is technically not on the roster. He was placed on the disabled list last week because of an injured elbow. But that wouldn't prevent him from showing up and putting on the number.

"I wouldn't miss this day," Rhodes said. "I'd rather sit on the bench, support Jackie Robinson and wear his jersey."

Growing up in Venezuela, Lopez knew a little about Robinson by watching old TV clips, but didn't understand his impact until his coach told him.

"My first coach in Venezuela, Henry Perez, played professionally. He liked him. He told me about him," Lopez said. "He played great. He played second base."

Ellison said the promotion to honor Robinson was a wonderful gesture by baseball. "He set the standard and gave us all the opportunity to be here," he said. "A lot of Latin players may not know a lot of about him, but it's pretty neat they're doing that."

When Batista began his professional career in the early 1990s, he was surprised how many African-American players were unfamiliar with Robinson's achievements.

"Back in 1995 or so, the name Jackie Robinson was mentioned more and more in baseball and it was a shame for me to know that many African-Americans didn't know who he was," said Batista, an avid reader as well as a writer who has researched Robinson's legacy.

"People talk about his greatness and perseverance, but a lot of people don't realize that besides letting us play, he was a man seen as a man."

Batista said his strength as a man was revealed in the way he handled the physical and verbal abuse thrown his way. He restrained himself from fighting back. Batista said that the best African-American players, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, who played in the Dominican at the same time, would have reacted differently.

Baseball "knew those two guys would fight back and would get kicked out. Jackie had the education and the talent to change people's views," Batista said. "He had the heart not to fight back but, as Mahatma Gandhi said, 'It takes a bigger man to give in than to fight back.'

"I wouldn't say Jackie was the Mahatma Gandhi of baseball, but there was one thing about him that made them choose him. He wasn't the best player in the Negro League, but he was smartest not to fight back."

Bob Sherwin is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.