A time to remember (cont.)
Posted: Friday April 13, 2007 11:30AM; Updated: Sunday April 15, 2007 12:09PM
Robinson was not simply a baseball pioneer. He was a civil rights pioneer in every sense of the term, suffering though many of the same indignities that others would shoulder five, 10, 15, 20 years later. And, yes, even today.
"It's not that he just broke the color barrier in baseball. He broke the barrier for a lot of people in general," says Ray King, a reliever for the Washington Nationals. "He was Rosa Parks. He was Martin Luther King. He was in the forefront."
Ten years ago, in a tribute to what he meant to the game, baseball retired Robinson's uniform number, 42. This weekend, dozens of players in 15 professional ballparks around the nation -- including every player from the Astros, Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers, Phillies and Pirates -- will don it for the day in a similar tribute.
The faces of baseball today are hugely different because of Robinson. Though the number of African-American players in the game has fallen from its peak in 1975 -- from 27 percent then to about 9 percent now -- the number of players from Latin America, Asia and other places outside of the United States has increased dramatically. A record 246 players on Opening Day rosters and disabled lists -- about 29 percent -- were born outside the U.S. Nearly half of the players in the minors leagues are not from the U.S.
"I grew up in the '70s, so I don't really know much about Jackie Robinson," said the Braves' Andruw Jones, a native of the Caribbean island of Curacao and the lone Atlanta player who will wear No. 42 on Sunday. "But I know he broke the color barrier, and he gave Latins a chance to get to the major leagues, and a lot of others, too. That's why we're all here."
The front offices in baseball and baseball's central office in New York now have more minorities than ever, too. In Robinson's last comments about the game, before his death in 1972, he urged baseball to hire its first black manager. That finally happened when Frank Robinson was picked to manage the Cleveland Indians three years after Robinson's death. Today, there are two African-Americans managing teams, the Mets' Willie Randolph and the Rangers' Ron Washington.
"I try to tell [my students] about Jackie Robinson, and it's almost like telling them what happened 200 years ago," says Lamb, an assistant professor of communications at the College of Charleston (S.C.). "I think that's why we need to continually remind people about Jackie Robinson.
"Just walking onto the field gave hope to Americans, white and black. He knew what had to be done and did it."
This weekend on baseball fields from Boston to Los Angeles, from Atlanta to Seattle, and on other days in other places all over America, that's something worth remembering.