Thursday, April 16, 2015

Jackie Robinson’s contributions to baseball and country live on

Major League Baseball’s first-ever Civil Rights Game on Jackie Robinson Day was a match made perfect when it was set in the hands of the Dodgers.

Jackie Robinson’s powerful legacy, the Dodger team history, and baseball’s lead role in shattering segregation in this country are inextricably linked. For Robinson’s story can no more be limited to its importance to baseball than can the history of the Civil Rights movement overlook the tremendous impact made by Robinson’s becoming a Brooklyn Dodger, and the first African American player in the modern Major Leagues, on April 15, 1947.

The surviving icons of the successful integration of baseball  -- Rachel Robinson and daughter, Sharon; Dodgers 1949 rookie of the year Don Newcombe; Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax, Frank Robinson and Vin Scully -- were at Dodger Stadium to honor the husband, the father, the teammate, the friend, the mentor that was Jackie Robinson.

Frank and Barbara
Robinson, Dave Winfield
and Lloyd McClendon.
Robinson was baseball’s first black
manager. McClendon is baseball’s only African American
manager this season.
That unique extended royal family of Dodgers and fellow barrier breakers were joined by other greats, such as Hall of Famers Dave Winfield Jaime Jarrin, and baseball’s hierarchy, including Commissioner Rob Manfred. All figuratively linked arms with present-day uniformed personnel -- the Dodgers and Seattle Mariners who saluted No. 42 from the baselines on the diamond in Chavez Ravine, and the other 750 Major Leaguers who, on this day donned Jackie’s number, 42.

In a goose-bump-raising pre-game ceremony, Mrs. Robinson was escorted to the mound by Mr. Koufax as -players from both teams looked on, warmly applauding.
Rachel Robinson and Sandy Koufax

By serving as a proverbial honor guard for Mrs. Robinson, the army of No. 42s at Dodger Stadium that included Don Mattingly, Lloyd McClendon, Jimmy Rollins, Robinson Cano, Clayton Kershaw, King Felix Hernandez, were a living testament that Robinson lives on.

He is burnished in all our memories, either through real-life witness, or through the benefit of the many clips showing No. 42 running like a Olympic sprinter, sliding like a freight train, slashing historic hits. Still shots of his signing the contract offered by the visionary club owner Branch Rickey,  shots with teammates who were willing allies are indelible.

Pee Wee Reese, Ralph Branca, Roy Campanella, Newcombe, Jackie hugging, shaking hands, or simply standing on the field with arms around each other’s shoulders, showed a nation what was possible.  They defied and silenced racists. Their successes at living and playing as equals pulled the nation one major step closer to the Civil Rights era and this country’s last successful battles of the Civil War.

Every day, not just April 15, is Jackie Robinson Day in baseball, as far as I am concerned. And every day, he can be as young and vital and iconic as he was in 1947, as long as the game takes time to pause, remember and remind every youngster that comes into the Major Leagues what sacrifice, commitment and the indelible love of a cause as well as a game can produce.