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MLB Reckons With its Past

Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the traditional April 15 celebration for Jackie Robinson was pushed back to August 28.

Just like April 15, August 28 weighs on significance as well.

Traditionally, every year Major League Baseball celebrated Robinson, the first player to break the league’s color barrier when he debuted for the then-Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Throughout his career, Robinson won the Rookie of the Year award in 1947, selected as an All-Star for six consecutive seasons, won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1949, played in six World Series, which gave the Dodgers a World Series Championship in 1955.

In 1962 Robinson was enshrined into the Hall of Fame and in 1997 the league retired his ‘42’ uniform number across all clubs, becoming the first professional athlete to receive the honor. On the designated ‘Jackie Robinson Day” all players across all clubs wear the number ‘42’ on their uniforms.

According to the article on Rowan Kavner on Dodgers Insider, August 28 additionally holds significance for Robinson because on the date in 1945, Branch Rickey met with Robinson and told him of the intent for Robinson to debut in the Majors.

For the fight for Civil RIghts for African Americans the date has significance for which in 1955, 14 year old Emmett Till was lynched by white men while visiting relatives in Mississippi after he was accused of offending a white woman inside of her family’s grocery store. In 1963, the March on Washington took place at the steps of the National Mall. The march was for jobs and freedom and organized by Civil Rights Movement leaders and where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his infamous “I Have A Dream” speech.

Robinson and his family attended the march in 1963 as thousands attended Friday, commemorating the anniversary of the event.

Celebration of Robinson concluded a week of activism across multiple professional leagues. From basketball to soccer, players cancelled practices, went on strike and did not play in games and spoke out about the continued injustices taking place after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The Dodgers were among the MLB clubs that chose not to play their game on August 26.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said to Dodgers Insider that he was proud of Dodgers players and they have opened their hearts, minds and ears.

“It’s been emotional for all of us,” Roberts said. “I’m emotionally spent right now, but this is good. It’s supposed to be that way, because it's meaningful.”

For the Civil Rights Movement, Robinson was an important figure. With baseball becoming integrated along with other actions such as millions of African Americans migrating to the North from the South, desegregation of the military in 1948, the country started to realize the fight for equality was more than a political matter. For race relations, Whites and Blacks the opportunity for them to be more open and respectful of one another was a possibility.

For the league, the day also provides the opportunity to highlight the work Robinson had done but also see the progress since he left the league.

Post-baseball, Robinson was active in politics and considered himself as an independent. Robinson praised President Kennedy for his stance on civil rights and was angered by conservative Republicans on their opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights legislation.

Robinson also protested against Major league over their lack of minority managers and front office personnel.

When accepting a plaque commemorating the 25 year anniversary of his debut, Robinson told those in attendance, “I'm going to be tremendously more pleased and more proud when I look at that third base line one day and see a black face managing in baseball.”

The wish that Robinson desired ended up being fulfilled after his death in 1974 when Frank Robinson became general manager of the Cleveland Indians.

However with the advancements of Robinson and the successes of other fellow African American players, the number of African American players playing in Major league has been on a steady decline.

Even after 73 years since Robinson’s debut, for MLB there are still advancements and roads needed to cross to address their diversity and its long history.

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