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Jackie Robinson Teammate Ralph Branca Reflects On Anniversary

Former Brooklyn Dodgers player Ralph Branca at Barclays Center - Nov. 3, 2012 (credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

Former Brooklyn Dodgers player Ralph Branca at Barclays Center – Nov. 3, 2012 (credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - It was 66 years ago today when Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier.

In tribute, every MLB player will wear his number, 42, on Monday.

“I think that’s great,” Dodgers teammate Ralph Branca told WCBS 880 reporter Peter Haskell. “It means that baseball understands what he did.”

“He changed that and the way people, especially southerners, viewed blacks, because blacks were second-class citizens,” Branca said.

Branca said Robinson didn’t want to respond to the stream of hatred.

“Pitchers would throw at his head. I worried about him getting hurt, particularly when you’re being attacked and you can’t respond,” Robinson’s widow Rachel told CBS News. “It sounds a little grandiose, but I felt like it was against the world.”

“I could see it. I talked to him all the time. (I said), ‘Don’t let it bother you,’” Branca said.

Branca said Robinson would turn the other cheek and walk away.

“I knew how competitive he was and I learned that it took a lot of doing for him to act contrary to what he really was,” he said.

Branca is now 87 years old, lives in Westchester County, and works in insurance.

Jackie Robinson’s story was made into a major motion picture titled “42,” which is currently in theaters.