April 15th is Jackie Robinson Day around Major League Baseball. This is a terrific annual celebration to honor the day that baseball’s color barrier was broken, long before society’s, in 1947. However, on the 60th anniversary of this momentous event, it has turned into anything but a celebration. To bring attention to the holiday, ESPN created a series of television and internet features entitled “After Jackie.” Apparently, in their efforts to show Robinson’s impact, they either forgot their purpose or backhandedly created a story of complaints that is a disgraceful “honor” for Robinson and tarnishes the ability of this country to celebrate anything.
Perhaps ESPN could not find anyone who could contently celebrate Robinson’s achievements as a player and a pioneer. Maybe they do not exist. They do, but they just do not say anything provocative enough to make a story.
In John Helyar’s ESPN.com feature entitled “What would Jackie think?” that included many of the same interviews from the television specials, the true thoughts of baseball’s African American community were made too evident.
By attempting to speak for Jackie Robinson, most of the people interviewed for this story represented themselves as disgruntled, mindlessly campaigning bigots, and in no way, shape or form did they show even the slightest bit of ability to speak for the sports version of Martin Luther King Jr.
For example, in the article that also complains there aren’t enough black executives, African American and former National League President Bill White steps out of hypocrite corner to protest the dropping number of black players.
He says Jackie would be displeased with Major League Baseball, the organization, for not marketing baseball to blacks, and allowing the number of African American players to dwindle.
Number one, White undoubtedly could have influenced that, since he was President of the National League. That is one rung short of commissioner. So, in essence he blames himself and then asserts a point that could be taken as belittling to African Americans, one that Jackie Robinson certainly would not have brought up.
“The average salary was higher in baseball, the pension was much better, but I don’t think baseball was selling that,” White said.
Then, almost as a footnote, one sensible person is quoted. The head coach of the Bethune Cookman baseball team, sees the folly. Here is ESPN’s exact quote, showing their shock that he does not blame the league.
“I’m concerned,” he says, though he doesn’t lay all the blame on MLB. “I don’t think enough of us African-Americans have gotten together to maintain kids’ interest.”
Aha! African American kids are playing football and basketball. What a revelation. However, after briefly discussing this, a new barrage is hurled at the league and the baseball community, almost to dispute the point that it might just be a trend among African American youth.
Undeterred, the next racial evangelist to step up to the plate is “leading Robinson scholar” Julies Tygiel. He wants affirmative action in baseball. Oh wait, no, he claims he is speaking for Jackie Robinson. Here is another direct quote from the article.
“Baseball integrated because Branch Rickey took a chance on affirmative action, on going outside the usual way of business,” says Tygiel, a professor at San Francisco State University who has written and edited three books about Robinson. “Jackie Robinson would say baseball has to go out and take affirmative action again.” This criticism is despite the MLB’s RBI program, which increases the amount of inner city youth who play baseball. The program has been in place since 1991 and been very successful.
However, William Forrester Jr. was unhappy with his results right here in Richmond, VA. He joined ESPN’s parade of whining. Perhaps this is the only way he could get himself quoted on TV and the internet, but either way, what he said is ridiculous.
According to the article, Forrester “finds it ironic that black players and fans deserted the Negro Leagues for MLB — only to have MLB eventually desert them.”
Has the league banned black players? Does it refuse to pay them? No, that statement makes no sense. The league is in every major city, and apparently even Richmond, trying to appeal to African American youth. What more do you want them to do?
Even though the number of African American players is down, the lesser number is not amounting to fewer accomplishments. Barry Bonds is second on the home run list, and that makes the top of the board a one-two punch of blacks with Hank Aaron at least temporarily holding the record.
After article complains about the lack of minority officials, they quote the minority official, White.
“I think Jackie would say there has been some progress,” White says. “I think Jackie would also say it hasn’t been enough.”
Since the article asked the question six times, I will now ask it about the article. What would Jackie think?
I am not going to claim to know what the great Jackie Robinson would think. That is why I am not Jackie Robinson. But, I will guarantee you, that if Robinson were alive and could say anything, none of these cowards would have had the guts to voice any of these worthless concerns.
By saying all of these things, they do not salute Robinson’s accomplishment, they refute his impact. What does it say when Forrester asks if Robinson and the black players were wrong to desert the Negro Leagues for the majors? Is he saying Robinson was wrong. Sounds like it to me.
White basically writes the argument against himself, bashing the organization he had a large hand in for not promoting black players and executives.
Tygiel claims that blacks need extra help to make it to the big leagues, so the league should have some form of affirmative action.
While these men may have intended to point out that black youth are not choosing baseball, they only worsened the problem. `
Much like their compatriots fighting for black football coaches, these door-to-door salesmen cannot promote their own product, and build it up. Instead they try and tear down what they feel is the competition.
However in this case, the men who could greatly help their cause, the African American major leaguers, are not on their side. Take a look at the leading African American ballplayers. You may notice exactly none were quoted in that article or on the topic by ESPN this week.
At least one African American player for every team that has one (only the Braves and Astros lack a black player) will be honoring Robinson by wearing his retired number 42 for one game on April 15th.
This was an idea attributed to Reds outfielder and perfect diplomat Ken Griffey Jr. If there is one player who deserves to speak on the topic, it is Griffey, and he has not been given the stage to do so, and he has not created one.
Griffey will simply lead this very appropriate tribute. Hopefully, he can catch the eyes of more African American youth than the ridiculous antics of ESPN’s talking heads have.
The appropriate way to fix the problem is the way Griffey and many other players, such as Jermaine Dye and Curtis Granderson are taking. Tigers outfielder Granderson has been speaking with inner city youth in many of the cities he has been to. He is speaking with Cal Ripken in Baltimore this week. Not to mention, he is producing on the field, giving the kids who he meets someone to follow and idolize.
There are plenty of young black major leaguers coming too. The Devil Rays have three terrific young African Americans in Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes and Carl Crawford. Marlins star Dontrelle Willis is a product of the RBI program, as is Phillies star Jimmy Rollins.
Kids are likely to pursue a the same passion as someone they look up to. Athletes have often been called bad role models, but they are right in this situation. Why would kids want to play in a league that their elders are bashing, saying does not welcome them? It makes no sense.
Remembering Robinson by showcasing his successors should be the method of choice. For the players, it is, now if only the media and these adults that claim to be men would follow their lead, because Jackie would undoubtedly want the number of blacks in the baseball world to be as large as it can be.
That means bashing the league does not accomplish anything. Jackie would want kids in their backyards and in the street trying to hit like Bonds, run like Crawford, lead like Jeter and play like Griffey. Maybe they should learn to think like Griffey, too.
Jackie would say play ball, not criticize.