Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jackie Robinson Day


April 15th is Jackie Robinson Day throughout Major League Baseball.

The occasion will be celebrated with on field ceremonies, scholarship donations to the Robinson Fund and all the other pleasantries and tributes that are deserved by an American hero.

It is ironic that on the day that Jackie Robinson's role in integrating Major League baseball is remembered, some rosters in major league baseball will be absent of a single Black American player. In that context, Torii Hunter of the Anaheim Angels feels the tributes ring hollow, especially when it comes to wearing Robinson's #42 jersey.

"When you have a team that doesn't have any African American players on the team, and then everybody on the team wears it, yes, it's watered down, because they don't have blacks to represent Jackie Robinson over there.

It's pretty weird. That's just my opinion."

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig feels that MLB's celebration is appropriate.

"It transcends all that. Jackie Robinson coming into baseball is the most powerful and most meaningful moment in baseball history. To honor Jackie Robinson by wearing his number, I think, is the greatest compliment you can pay."

Perhaps.

Still, Jackie Robinson is not an excuse for mainstream America to romanticize and even commercialize Black heroes of the Civil Rights era to the extent that the significance of their impact on society is watered down.

One has to wonder whether the Jackie Robinson legacy is really understood. Will his legacy be given its due in the Robert Redford/ESPN movie soon to be made out of his life? Robert Redford, with the approval of Jackie's widow Rachel, will portray Branch Rickie in the life story of Jackie Robinson. ESPN will collaborate in producing the movie. With Redford as the headliner, the movie may turn out to be more of a testament to the "struggles" of Rickie more so than Robinson.

The same league that perhaps celebrates Robinson in rose-colored historical theory is the same league that is presently content to see another Black-American hero, Barry Bonds, in career exile. Presently, it is not known whether Bonds' value will extend beyond the $376,000 his last home run ball sold for at auction. Bonds has given as much to baseball as any player, yet he is barely acknowledged these days. Ironically, Barry's sins may ultimately be defined and put into perspective by the similar sins of a White player, Roger Clemens. Without the parallel transgression, logic can't allow Barry to remain a pariah, even in the minds of the most prejudiced. Indeed, I think Jackie Robinson would expect a Black man to be judged on his own in this day and age.

Jackie Robinson integrated the major leagues. Genuine integration means more than just the inclusion of a particular race, although Robinson would probably be surprised to learn that Blacks comprise barely 8% of major league rosters. True integration also refers to the inclusion and celebration of difference. Baseball should include all its heroes - those as "surly" as Bonds and those as "classy" as Robinson. MLB can't pretend that Barry Bonds doesn't exist any more than it can deny that some major league rosters lack a single Black-American player in the year 2008. Not unless they want to overlook the real meaning of Jackie Robinson day.

Like me, Torii Hunter feels that #42 is more than just a fashion statement.