Today is Jackie Robinson Day.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie went hitless in four plate appearances and scored a run in a 5-3 win for the Dodgers over the Boston Braves.
Robinson went on to hit .297; leading the National League with 29 stolen bases and slugging 12 home runs. He also won Rookie of the Year and finished fifth in the NL MVP race.
And each and every day of his amazing first-year debut, Jackie Robinson endured brutal racism.
Robinson finished his career in the Hall of Fame. He was the 1949 MVP, a seven-time All-Star and helped lead the Dodgers to seven World Series appearances and the championship in 1955.
He was also an icon, a hero, a legend. Jackie Robinson, as well as Lary Doby, who debuted with the Cleveland Indians in the American League in July of 1947, gave hope not only kids who now believed they had a chance to make it to the big leagues. Robinson gave hope to an entire people.
Major League Baseball’s retirement of Robinson’s iconic No. 42 in 1997, the 50th anniversary of Jackie breaking the color barrier, remains the best decision that Commissioner Bud Selig made in his tenure.
Robinson remains the only player in the history of the game who eclipses the sport because of his historic impact in so many areas.
The African-Americans players who wore the number conveyed their pride and understanding of what it meant to wear Jackie’s number. It was more than fitting the Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in the history of the game, and a noted humanitarian, would be the last to don No. 42.
When Jackie was alive, he spoke at the 1972 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, commemorating the 25th anniversary of that national milestone. He was a man wracked by diabetes and yet the first within him still burned. Robinson stated he wanted to see a black manager in one of those dugouts. He died later that year, his dream unfulfilled.
It wouldn’t be until 1975, when the Cleveland Indians named Frank Robinson player-manager, when Jackie Robinson’s dream would come true.
Today, there is only one black managers in the big leagues; Washington’s Dusty Baker.The lack of black players on the field remains a problem throughout the MLB. The once firtle ground of African-American players has dried up as fewer blacks play the game.
Robinson would also look to the front offices and he would be saddened. This season there is just one black and one lation geral manager among 30 teams. It is especially striking when, as of 2015, 37.6 percent of all all players were black or latino.
Americans have loved to use baseball as an anology of the timelessness of this country. It wasn’t timelessness that brought us Jackie Robinson.
Jackie had to transcend time. And the reason the the Martin Luther King’s of the world could continue the fight, is no small part to the existence of a Jackie Robinson. He endured so generations would know that they were strong enough, both to take it and to fight it, and ultimately to change it.
Jackie Robinson died three years before my birth. I never saw him play. But I know men who have. I love to listen to them talk about Jackie. It’s different than with other ballplayers. Like the way people talk about Ali or Jim Brown or Wilt Chamberlain but better.
So today, remember what Jackie stood for and what he would not have. America should honor Jack Roosevelt Robinson. To me, there is no greater way to do so than to be the country that he believed that we could.
Thank you, Mr. Robinson, for your sacrifice and for your strength and dignity. You endured what most of us could not. Happy Jackie Robinson Day.