Houston manager Dusty Baker celebrated Jackie Robinson’s legacy on the 73rd anniversary of the fall of the major league color barrier and lamented the lack of African Americans in today’s game.
“It’s frustrating because we’ve talked about it forever … but it seems like the numbers are dwindling instead of increasing,” Baker said Wednesday.
Only 7.7% of big league players on opening day rosters last year were African American, down from 17% in 1990. Baker and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts are the only two African American managers in the majors.
Baker appreciates that the league is making a “conscious effort” to get more young African Americans involved in baseball through programs like Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities and is optimistic there can be a turnaround in the upcoming years.
“Hopefully in this decade and the next decade there will be more guys that get a chance,” Baker said. “All they need is a chance. A lot of guys have been bypassed and overlooked.”
Robinson broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947, for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His No. 42 was retired throughout the major leagues in 1997 by then-Commissioner Bud Selig. An annual Jackie Robinson Day started in 2004 and since 2009, all players, managers, coaches have worn his No. 42 to mark the day.
A museum in New York devoted to Robinson remains under construction but there have been repeated delays in fundraising and construction.
With the start of baseball season on hold because of the new coronavirus, the celebration of Robinson’s contributions was a virtual one this year.
The Jackie Robinson Foundation launched a virtual learning hub to coincide with the day, and teams and players across the league took to social media and other online platforms to commemorate the occasion.
CC Sabathia and Harold Reynolds were among the former major leaguers reading excerpts from the book by Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, titled “Jackie Robinson: American Hero.” She appeared in video vignettes and there are virtual and printable educational activities.
Chicago shortstop Tim Anderson spent time on a video call with 10 students who are in the White Sox Amateur City Elite program. The 26-year-old answered questions and talked about Robinson’s legacy, and the responsibility he feels to get more African Americans involved in the game.
“There’s not really many black kids in the league,” Anderson said. “So, who’s going to motivate these kids? Who’s going to inspire them? That’s something I take pride in. I definitely always look forward to wearing No. 42.”
The Seattle Mariners, who top current active major league rosters with nine African American players, hosted a roundtable discussion on YouTube to discuss Robinson’s contributions. It was led by Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims and included second basemen Dee Gordon and Shed Long, outfielder Mallex Smith and Reynolds, a former Mariner and current MLB Network broadcaster, and Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Museum.
The Nationals tweeted a video with highlights of Robinson that included pictures of various players and staff members and their families wearing shirts featuring Robinson’s No. 42 and holding signs paying tribute to the legend.
“It’s one of the biggest days of the major league calendar — and the calendar in general,” Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He’s one of the most important people in American society, not only sports. It’s a fitting tribute that we have a day to honor him each year and it’s very fitting that it’s during the baseball season. Although we won’t be playing any games this year, we certainly will stop and remember what he’s meant to the game of baseball and to the fabric of America.”
The Orioles took part in the celebration by having infielder Richie Martin read “My Little Golden Book about Jackie Robinson” on the team’s digital kids corner. Martin is the grandson of Walter “Bancy” Thomas, who played in the Negro Leagues and was teammates with Robinson in 1945 with the Kansas City Monarchs before he broke the color barrier.
Baker didn’t have the opportunity to meet Robinson but heard plenty of stories about him from Hank Aaron and other players and managers. He idolized Robinson growing up because of stories his father told him from the time he was a young child.
“He was a man that made it possible for me to not only play but manage and gave us all a great sense of pride about being a black American,” Baker said.
Roberts talked about his plans for the day on a radio show in Los Angeles on Wednesday morning.
“I think I’m going to celebrate today by just continuing to educate my son, my daughter about Jackie … just take the time to go back and realize and talk about what he meant not only for baseball but our country and the world,” Roberts said.
While players and managers across baseball embraced celebrating Robinson online, some expressed disappointment that they missed the chance to don his number this season and wondered whether there would be a way to make up the day.
“Dear @MLB, If/when the season starts back can we have a day where we all wear number 42? It’s my fav alternate jersey of the year. Pretty please,” Pirates right-hander Chris Archer tweeted.