The San Diego Padres will introduce a scholarship in honor of the player who broke the Pacific Coast League’s color line as they join the rest of Major League Baseball in marking Monday’s 72nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color line.
The Padres will recognize the family of Johnny Ritchey at a ceremony at home plate before Monday night’s game against the Colorado Rockies at Petco Park. A member of Ritchey’s family will throw the ceremonial first pitch and nine Jackie Robinson YMCA scholarship recipients will greet the Padres starters at their positions.
Ritchey was born and raised in San Diego and graduated from San Diego High School. He was a star member of the Post 6 American Legion baseball team, but was not allowed to play in national championships held in the South because of laws forbidding integrated athletic competitions.
Ritchey also played at the then-San Diego State College. Ritchey’s time in college was interrupted by serving in the U.S. Army for 27 months during World War II in a combat engineering unit, seeing service at the invasion of Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge and in the Philippines, rising to the rank of staff sergeant.
Ritchey returned to San Diego State following the war and was the Aztecs’ leading hitter in 1946 with a .356 average. He began his professional career in 1947 with the Chicago American Giants, leading the Negro American League with a .381 batting average.
Ritchey batted .323 as a rookie catcher with the Padres in 1948 when they were a member of the Pacific Coast League, one year after Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Ritchey also played with the Padres in 1949. He played with three other PCL teams, the Vancouver Capilanos of the Western International League and the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League during his nine-season career in organized baseball which ended in 1956.
Ritchey died in 2003 in Chula Vista at the age of 80.
A bust of Ritchey and plaque honoring him as “The Jackie Robinson of the Pacific Coast League” is in The Draft at Petco Park.
The plaque includes a quote from Ritchie: “It was a thrill to play for the Padres. The fans cheered and my feeling was it was because I was a San Diego boy making good. It had nothing to do with race.”
Major League Baseball has marked the anniversary of Robinson’s breaking baseball’s color line by holding Jackie Robinson Day each year since 2004.
For the 11th consecutive year, all players and other on-field personnel will wear Robinson’s No. 42. The number 42 was retired throughout Major League Baseball in 1997, on the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s April 15, 1947, debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
A commemorative sleeve patch will be added to uniforms this season with a matching insignia on all on-field caps. Players, managers and coaches will also have the option to wear a “Jackie Robinson 100” T-shirt during batting practice marking 2019 being the 100th anniversary of Robinson’s birth and socks with an emblazoned “42” logo.
The Jackie Robinson Day logo will be included on base jewels and official dugout lineup cards.
Robinson went hitless in four at-bats in his major league debut, but scored what proved to be the winning run in Brooklyn’s 5-3 victory over the Boston Braves in front of a crowd announced at 25,623 at Ebbets Field.
Robinson played his entire major league career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, helping lead them to six National League titles during his 10 seasons, and, in 1955, their only World Series championship in Brooklyn.
Robinson’s successful integration of Major League Baseball is credited with helping change Americans’ attitudes toward blacks and being a catalyst toward later civil rights advances.
“I’ve often said that baseball’s proudest moment and its most powerful social statement came when Jackie Robinson first set foot on a Major League Baseball field,” then-MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said in 2004 in connection with Major League Baseball’s first leaguewide Jackie Robinson Day.
— City News Service
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