LOS ANGELES — Jackie Robinson’s legacy was on display in the Major League Baseball draft, with four black players among the top five selected for the first time in history.
Six of the first 18 players chosen as well as nine players selected in the first round are black. All are alumni of MLB’s diversity development programs.
It’s seen as progress in a sport that has a lower percentage of black players than any year since the early 1990s.
“It’s good to see athletes staying past the age of 12 or 13 and still playing baseball because we need more of them,” former All-Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins said Monday.
But Robinson probably still wouldn’t be satisfied.
On the 25th anniversary of Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he criticized MLB for not yet hiring a black manager or helping black players establish careers after the end of their days of play. Robinson’s comments during the 1972 World Series came during his last public appearance before his death a few days later at age 53.
“Here we are now, 50 years later, we have two black managers,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, citing Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros.
“Naturally he would be disappointed because he wouldn’t see the things that he and others had fought so diligently for, to create opportunities,” Kendrick said of Robinson. “We still don’t really see those opportunities.”
Kendrick joined former All-Stars Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Rollins and Edwin Jackson, as well as Seattle Mariners announcer Dave Sims, to discuss Robinson’s life and impact at Playball Park inside from the Los Angeles Convention Center as part of the All-Star festivities.
A standing-only crowd listened intently while surrounded by deafening music, screaming announcers and fans testing their batting and fielding skills.
“We lose a lot of athletes to other sports because we don’t get promoted,” Rollins said, distinguishing between football and basketball. “One thing that we’ve always felt as black athletes, we say, ‘You always have to be the starter. You’re not going to find us on the bench.
A May report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport said 38% of all MLB players on Opening Day this season were players of color, an increase of 0.4. % compared to a year ago. About 28.5% of players were Hispanic or Latino, 7.2% were black, and 1.9% were Asian.
Robinson’s presence was prominent during Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium, where the Hall of Famer is honored with a statue.
His legacy was included in pre-game ceremonies. His widow, Rachel, turned 100 that day and her birthday was recognized during the game. The Jackie Robinson Foundation will receive a check for more than $800,000 from sales of Sony’s “MLB The Show” video game.
“The Jackie Legacy” airs Wednesday on MLB Network with interviews with former All-Star Bo Jackson, former President Bill Clinton, filmmaker Spike Lee and former Commissioner Bud Selig discussing the impact of Robinson on baseball, civil rights and society.
Kendrick credited Rachel Robinson for her ability to survive the public harassment of the time.
“Although Jackie has never publicly cracked up, you can almost be sure that’s the shoulder he cried on,” he said. “Just the sheer strength that she demonstrated sitting in that stadium listening to all those people say those nasty things about her husband, and he had nothing to do with what they wanted him portrayed, and yet she found the will to be able to sit down and endure it all too.
Born in Georgia and raised in Pasadena, Calif., Robinson became the first black man to play in the majors when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers 75 years ago, ending racial segregation in professional baseball. who had kept black players in the black leagues. dating from the 1880s.
During his 10-year career, Robinson was the target of harsh beatings from opposing teams, racist obscenities, hate mail and death threats. He finally silenced the critics with his play and his belief in non-violence.
“Coming from a different background, I was mad at Jackie, like why didn’t he fight back? I would have done something,” said Rollins, who grew up in a black Oakland neighborhood. , in California.
“But as I got older, I realized that he was carrying 21 million people on his back and he couldn’t fail. They waited for a reason and he never gave it to them. For that reason, I’m grateful that we are here.
Dawson recalled receiving hate mail during his years with the Chicago Cubs from 1987 to 1992.
“Some of the things that were said just make you shake your head,” he said.
If Robinson was alive today, Raines said he would ask him, “How do you take this and get away with it?”
Jackson added, “He absorbed everyone’s pain. He was the bomb shield and he took that bomb so we could play today.