Where would the Dodgers be without Jackie Robinson? Where would this league be as a whole without his sacrifice?
Those are questions that will never have to be answered because Robinson was brave enough to be the first African-American player in the MLB, knowing all that came with that, good and bad. Fans are forever indebted to this man, the trails he blazed, the persecution he withstood and the class he maintained throughout his entire life. He was more than just a ballplayer, he was a hero, and the Hall of Fame numbers he put up on the field only solidified that.
As he eloquently put it, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
This quote from Jackie Robinson was uttered long before many current baseball fans were born, but no amount of time can weaken the impact those words and his life have had on the game of baseball and American society in general over the past century.
As cemented in history as Robinson’s actions and plays are, the Dodgers will take another step to immortalize No. 42.
Today, the Dodgers’ will continue to honor the legacy of Jackie Robinson with a new statue outside the stadium in the Left Field Reserve Plaza. The statue will depict the iconic play where Robinson stole home during the 1955 World Series, a staple of any baseball history montage. A few paragraphs about his life and a couple of quotes, including the one above, will also be inscribed.
The honor comes on the 70th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball and making his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Every year on April 15, every player to don a uniform wears the No. 42 in honor of Robinson and his courage. The number was retired league-wide in 1997.
This specific honor was started by Ken Griffey Jr. that same year; he was the first and only player to wear the number on that day, after being granted permission from Jackie’s widow, Rachel Robinson. The thought was that it would just be a one-time thing until he asked to do it again on the 60th anniversary of his debut in 2007, and upon permission, the tradition took off.
The statue of the Pasadena native is about 77 inches tall, over 35,000 pounds and is made of granite. On Dodgers.com, it is depicted as a “salute to his aggressive and ambitious playing style.”
That style never left Robinson for a day in his career and, more importantly, it was also the way he lived his life. “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me…All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” This was Robinson’s mantra, respect, and his head-down, gritty playing mentality was a perfect reflection of that. He treated all the way he wanted to be treated and more than likely took that saying to an entirely new level with the hurdles he had to overcome.
The four sport UCLA Letterman made it possible for the MLB to have the diversity it has today. Baseball, more so than any other US sport, is an international and multi-cultural society. There was a time when the player of the league were only two things: American and white.
I would be interested in what Jackie might think of the league today, for as much diversity as there is, the percent of African-American players on opening day rosters for 2017 was the lowest it has been in a few decades, 7.1% of players.
This is an issue that has been recognized league wide, and there are a variety of reasons why it has happened, but having fewer recognizable faces is a possible reason for the lack of African-American youth getting drawn into the game. The MLB is hoping programs like Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) can increase these numbers and they seem to be working.
Despite the years gone by, Robinson still serves as inspiration.
"“My grandfather was a Dodgers fan, I think every African-American male growing up in that time was a Dodgers fan. He just talked about everything he went through…he was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, L.A. Dodgers fan, because of Jackie,” Yankees’ pitcher C.C. Sabathia"
Jackie has had an impact on my life. Playing high school and college baseball in Southern California, diversity within a team is about as common as a 4-seam fastball. Growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be the only or one of few white players on my teams, and that felt normal.
Can you imagine Jackie seeing that when he was a rookie? Rather than being the spot of color in a sea of white, he could have just been one of the guys, and all we would need to talk about was how great of a player he was.
But history is rarely so kind, and Robinson’s perseverance guided him through those troubling times, and now we are fortunate enough to tell his story today to always serve as a reminder.
Jackie Robinson will always be important to me, and that is more than just baseball. Not once in my life did I ever step on the field and question the race, color or creed of a teammate, I only cared if they could play and if they busted their butt doing so.
Jackie Robinson made this possible, and for that, I am forever grateful.