Cancel Jackie Robinson Day, An Insult to A Great American

Jackie Robinson Day, which started in 2004 as a well intended tribute to a great American, has become a meaningless event that should but will not be cancelled.

Many fans celebrated Robinson’s day on April 15th, the actual calendar date in 1947 that he first took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Since the Pirates have been out of town for a week, Pittsburgh and other teams that were on the road will honor Robinson on April 22nd, preposterous though that is.

What we have is every player wearing #42, officially retired from use in 1997, even though they can’t tell you much more about Robinson than that he was Major League Baseball’s first African-American and that he suffered many indignities throughout his career. My educated guess is that if the nearly 1,000 major league players, coaches and managers were asked to write an intelligent 200-word essay about Robinson, the majority couldn’t do it. Neither could the fans. If the MLB’s original intention was to illuminate fans about Robinson’s contributions to the civil rights movement and American eventual integration, then it’s failed. The average person doesn’t know much more about Robinson today than he did seven—or even 20— years ago.

The irony is that since Robinson Day was launched, the percentage of baseball’s African-Americans has declined while Hispanic players have increased. Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has long lobbied that Roberto Clemente’s number 21 should also be retired and that the Puerto Rican should like Robinson have a day of his own.

What about other pioneer players from foreign countries? Should there be days for the first Dominican, Venezuelan and Japanese players? In our politically correct society, wouldn’t that be the right thing to do? After all, they’ve assumed an increasingly prominent role in baseball. (For the record they are Ozzie Virgil, Chico Carrasquel and Masanori Murakami.)

I’m not really suggesting that the former San Francisco Giants’ Murakami, an above average pitcher, would in any way be the equal to Robinson. But I’m sure that Asian advocacy groups could make a case on his behalf. Some one could argue that Murakami paved the way for one of the greatest hitters of our era, Ichiro Suzuki. Furthermore, Murakami a non-English speaker, must have faced many uncomfortable barriers that included racial slurs during his 1964-1965 career.

Once organized professional sports goes down the tributary road, it never ends. Over the weekend, I noticed that the Los Angeles Dodgers are wearing #4 (Snider) while both the Tigers and the Reds have “Sparky” emblazoned on their sleeves. The Pirates trumped the Dodgers and Reds with a two-fer. Inside a Willie Stargell star, which the slugger gave out to teammates who made the largest contribution in winning efforts, is #7, former manager Chuck Tanner’s number. Stargell has been dead for a decade; Tanner, for a month.

Happily, I’m not alone in my skepticism. When he was still with the Minnesota Twins, Torii Hunter said in reference to Robinson Day: “This is supposed to be an honor and just a handful of guys wearing the number. Now you’ve got entire teams doing it. I think we’re killing the meaning. It should be special wearing Jackie’s number, not just because it looks cool.”

CC Sabathia, who decries the diminishing numbers of African Americans in the game, agrees with Hunter: “It kind of waters it down. I could see the Dodgers since that was his team, but not everyone else.”

We live in the era of overkill. If something is good, then multiplied by ten, it becomes ten times better especially if it might help sell tickets or merchandise.

7 Replies to “Cancel Jackie Robinson Day, An Insult to A Great American”

  1. And why isn’t number three retired? Were it not for Ruth, the game of baseball almost certainly wouldn’t have taken on the meaning it has with the public or had the success it has without him. Without him, the game itself wouldn’t be the one we enjoy today.
    I couldn’t agree more with you that in the attempt to honor the diversity of the game, they’ve missed the point and have made it irrelevant. If anything, rather than removing the stain of racism, by keeping the focus on race instead makes it an issue where it shouldn’t exist any longer.

  2. Major League Baseball has the right thing in mind, but just make it for the 15th and that should be it. It is not that other players from different backgrounds should have their accomplishments diminished, but Jackie Robinson show a change in culture. We would never have seen a Roberto Clemente of and Ichiro if it wasn’t for Robinson. He bit the the bullet for many people who followed him no matter what the color. I think baseball should not have every player wear the number because some of them really don’t know what he was about or what he truly stood for.

  3. I must respectfully disagree with you on this one, Joe. Robinson’s role in both American and baseball history must not be forgotten, so the April 15 observance is entirely appropriate in my opinion. The fact that the majority of current MLB players and fans couldn’t write a 200 word essay on Robinson is precisely why we SHOULD observe the day, not eliminate it. (I would also bet that the majority of current MLB players couldn’t write about Cy Young, Walter Johnson, or even Babe Ruth, either. Players have a shocking lack of knowledge about the history of their own game.)

    I will give you this point though: if you are a road team on April 15, that is the luck of the draw; no do-over on the next homestand, and only one player per team should have the honor of wearing #42.

    As a side note, when I give my school tours at the Heinz History Center, young elementary and even high school kids may not be able to identify Franco Harris or Roberto Clemente, DO know the name of Jackie Robinson and can tell you why he is important. That should never be forgotten

  4. For the Latinists amongst you: de mortuiis nihil nisi bonam. (Of the dead, say nothing but good.)In the case of
    Jackie Robinson, I submit that we’ve interpreted that aphorism too expansively. Perhaps it’s senescence, but I cannot abide the hagiography that now substitutes for accurate reporting about the derring-do of #42. What has happened is that a culture has been mesmerized by a system of political correctness that does not allow any discussion on the merits. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, but to equate that with his greatness as a player is a serious overstretch. In the World Series, his paltry contributions to Dodger hitting led to dem Bums losing 5 of 6 titles. The idea that no team can use the #42 because of Robinson smacks of the political correctness we see in all aspects of life. I would have no problem if the Dodgers retired the number; that is their prerogative, but to eliminate it entirely from the game is beyond my comprehension. I remind everyone that, more than anything else, baseball is a game, and to make into our national religion is not only blasphemous, but silly as well.

  5. Dude,you must be on crack!!!(or in the Tea Party,whose members are high on the racism/crypto-fascism drug!!!)In addition to Jackie Robinson’s heroic breaching of the disgraceful colour
    barrier,which kept untold hundreds of black men(including my maternal grandfather,William H. Turner,a Chicago American Giant
    right-handed pitcher who quit in 1917,when my mother was born,as well as about a dozen other black men in my Windsor,Ont.,Can. birth-place and residence I well remember from my 60’s youth {I’m now 57]),out of their righful place in the “Show,”Robinson fearlessly tackled lingering racism in baseball and U.S society almost until a heart attack caused by years of abuse on and off the diamond from bigoted a**-clowns claimed him at the tragically young age of 53,Oct.24,1972.(Off the MLB topic,but you wonder what Robbie would say about the absence of handsome black leading men in big-and small-screen roles today-Apr.21,2011,given that the telegenic Robinson played himself in “The Jackie Robinson Story,”filmed in 1950.Rudy Dee played Jack’s wife Rachel Isum Robinson,but the lovely,dignified Mrs. Robinson herself would have CERTAINLY done the role justice.)

  6. @FirstBlackLaddieBrett1953: I dispute nothing that you wrote about Robinson or his contributions. I suspect, however, that if he were here today, Jackie would be disappointed in the drop off of African-American baseball players and probably not too supportive of the way his special day has morphed into something more about show that substance.

  7. You make the claim, “The average person doesn’t know much more about
    Robinson today than he did seven—or even 20— years ago”.

    There are at least two things wrong with that statement.

    First, how do you know this to be true? Are you just assuming it to
    be true? Have you conducted a survey?

    Second, even if it happens to be technically true, so what? One reason
    why it might be true is that 7 or 20 years ago the average person already
    knew a good amount about Jackie Robinson. So the ‘fact’ that they don’t
    know MORE about him now does not indicate some lamentable lack of knowledge
    on their part. It could just indicate that they already knew the most important
    information about Robinson, such as his being the first black MLB player, that some
    players were very negative about playing with blacks, etc.

    And one more thing, there’s probably a big difference between what the average
    person knows about Robinson and what the average baseball fan knows about him.

    Robinson is not the only hero of the effort to defeat discrimination in this
    country. Someone more knowledgable to me about American History and civil
    rights could probably name several dozen important black heros. Personally,
    I could possibly name at most 5 or 6.

    I do agree with you and the players you quoted about how having all the players wear
    Jackie’s 42 is overdoing it. It strikes me as a public relations move on the
    part of baseball and not a sincere tribute to Robinson. But I don’t see the need to throw the baby out with the bathwater by cancelling Jackie Robinson Day. You seem bothered by the fact that most people, including players, don’t know very much about Robinson. If that’s the case, why would you be
    for cancelling the one event that keeps his name out there?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *