By Art Spander
SAN FRANCISCO — The game was everything baseball could be and should be, full of passion and tension, and carrying with it thoughts of a pioneer whose courage and skill helped shape the sport to what it has become.
This was the night the Major Leagues honored Jackie Robinson, and at AT&T Park, the timing was perfect, even if the game time, 4 hours and 54 minutes, may not have been.
The Dodgers, Jackie’s team, against the Giants, which almost were Jackie’s team.
The Brooklyn Dodgers, of course, when Robinson in June 1947 became the first African-American to play in the major leagues. And the New York Giants, who nine and half years later, in December 1956, traded for Robinson, unaware — as were the Dodgers — that Jackie had retired.
So much on this Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, 12 innings of baseball coming to an end at 12:14 a.m., a beautiful end for the several thousand fans who remained from the sellout crowd of 42,469.
Hector Sanchez singled home Brandon Crawford from third, and the Giants were 3-2 winners.
The rivalry. The revelry. The reminders that major league baseball was off-limits to African-Americans until 1947 when Jackie, as beautifully planned by Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, was elevated to the big club.
You know the story. You’ve seen the movie “42,” a slightly embellished version of Jackie’s life, as Hollywood biopics tend to be. That was Jackie’s number, 42, and Tuesday night it was worn by every player on both teams, by every player in the majors.
A grand gesture by the Giants, who used both their main radio announcer, Jon Miller, and famed Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully for the pre-game introductions. For the 86-year-old Scully, there was great meaning.
Beginning with the Dodgers in 1950, Scully not only knew Robinson but that winter he somehow got involved in an ice skating race with Jackie.
“We had some sort of symposium up at Grossinger’s in the Catskills,” Scully said earlier in the long evening. “There was a rink. I had grown up in New York, so I knew how to skate. Jackie, I don’t think had ever been on skates.
“He said, ‘I’ll race you.’ I was surprised. ‘But you don’t know how to skate.’ He told me, ‘That’s the way to learn.’”
What America learned was that baseball truly became an American game when the doors were opened to all races.
Another African-American who followed Robinson into the majors was Monte Irvin, who joined the Giants out of the Negro Leagues and played his way into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Irvin, 95, was invited to the pre-game festivities but sent a note, read to the crowd, that at his age air travel was too hard on his body.
Irwin played with Willie Mays, and Mays, heading for his 83rd birthday, was in the Giants' clubhouse before the game, although he didn’t take part in any ceremonies. Too bad.
Another nice touch was the tribute to Boston on this first-year anniversary of the bombing at the marathon finish line. Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” the Red Sox’ theme song, was played over the sound system, and the AT&T crowd sang along, as the fans do at Fenway Park.
There was a full moon peering down from beyond McCovey Cove, further embellishing an evening made even more special when Sanchez, who had struck out as pinch hitter in the ninth and then replaced Buster Posey at catcher, ripped a pitch off Brandon League with two outs in the bottom of the 12th.
“I had to do something,” joked Sanchez. “My wife was sitting in our car in the parking lot for three hours.”
League was the seventh Dodgers pitcher. Yusmeiro Petit, who got the victory, was the eighth used by the Giants.
“It’s great that every year we honor Jackie Robinson the way we do,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said in his pre-game interview in the dugout. “No man had his impact on baseball and society.”
Bochy made his comments at 4:30 p.m. nearly eight full hours before he and his team were done for the evening. And the morning.
This one won’t be forgotten for a long while.