Friday, April 13, 2007

The more, the merrier ...

As reported here and at other places, Sunday is the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson crossing the color line in Major League Baseball. April 15, 1947 can with great legitimacy be called the most important date in modern sports history, if not in 20th Century American history, because the moment Robinson ran onto the the grass at Ebbets Field as a Brooklyn Dodger, everything changed - everything. And that's why the Powers That Be in MLB are allowing any player or manager who so desires to wear Robinson's previously retired number 42 for Sunday's games. It was the idea of Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., who went to league officials with his personal request to wear 42 for one game. As of now, the number of players wearing 42 on Sunday has grown to more than 150, including five entire teams. You would think everyone would take pride in such a large turnout, but that wouldn't be the case. Torii Hunter, the star outfielder for the Minnesota Twins who was one of the first to jump aboard the 42 bandwagon, told USA Today that he thinks something will be lost if so many 42s are out on the diamonds of North America:

"This is supposed to be an honor, and just a handful of guys wearing the number. Now you've got entire teams wearing the number. I think we're killing the meaning. It should be special wearing Jackie's number, not just because it looks cool."

Of course, Hunter is entitled to his opinion. Of course, he's also talking out of his ass.

For one, why can wearing Jackie's number be both special and cool? A large part of me wouldn't have minded one bit if MLB had dictated that every uniformed player and manger wear 42 on Sunday. Yeah, it would have been hell on the scorekeepers (and it still will be to some extent for those handling the games with multiple 42s on the field at the same time), but so what? They'll live. It wouldn't be anything compared to the hell that Robinson went through during that first year when entire teams were conspiring against him, spewing racial invective at him during games. What he did was so special, so huge, that anything done to mark his importance to the game and beyond can and should be done, and it still wouldn't enough.

I especially love the fact that five whole rosters will bear 42, including Robinson's former team, the Dodgers. It's worth noting that two of the other teams that will be going all-Robinson all the time will be the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies. At the time Robinson broke the color barrier, the Cardinals were the South's favorite baseball club, including large numbers of fans living in Jim Crow states such as Alabama and Mississippi, where the Klan thrived and blacks were third-class citizens. There was even an alleged foiled plot by several Cardinal players, including future Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter (who always denied it, to be fair) to strike the games against the Dodgers. Meanwhile, the Phillies in 1947 were led by manager Ben Chapman, a through-and-through racist who ordered his players to call Robinson a "nigger," among other things, during a game against Brooklyn just a week of Robinson joined the team. Ironically, that episode may have done more to solidify the rest of the Dodgers behind Robinson than any other event. To have both St. Louis and Philadelphia saluting Robinson's legacy six decades later speaks volumes.

The most uncomfortable part about Torii Hunter's assertion that too many players will be wearing 42 on Sunday is what he's not really saying, but is implying - that only African American players should be allowed Robinson's number. Yes, it's true that today's black players gained the most from Robinson's sacrifice - but so did the Latino players who dominate today's baseball, and so, for that matter, did the white players. The whole game is better overall thanks to what Jackie went through, as is all of society. And if a child of any color asks his parent about why there are so many 42s out on the field on Sunday, and the parent explains who Jackie Robinson was and why he's such an iconic figure - why, that's called knowledge. And that's also a job well done. So chill out, Torii, and enjoy the view on Sunday.

The players scheduled to wear Jackie Robinson's number on April 15 (as of April 13)
Arizona: Orlando Hudson, Tony Clark, Eric Byrnes, Chris Young, Scott Hairston, Bob Melvin, Lee Tinsley
Atlanta: Andruw Jones
Baltimore: Corey Patterson
Boston: Coco Crisp
Chicago Cubs: Jacque Jones, Cliff Floyd, Derrek Lee, Daryle Ward
Chicago White Sox: Jermaine Dye, Harold Baines
Cincinnati: Ken Griffey Jr.
Cleveland: Josh Barfield, C.C. Sabathia
Colorado: LaTroy Hawkins
Detroit: Gary Sheffield, Curtis Granderson, Craig Monroe, Marcus Thames, Lloyd McClendon
Florida: Dontrelle Willis
Houston: Entire roster
Kansas City: Reggie Sanders, Emil Brown
L.A. Angels: Gary Matthews Jr.
L.A. Dodgers: Entire roster
Milwaukee: Bill Hall
Minnesota: Torii Hunter, Rondell White, Jerry White
N.Y Mets: Willie Randolph1
N.Y. Yankees: Mariano Rivera2, Robinson Cano
Oakland: Milton Bradley, Shannon Stewart, Tye Waller
Philadelphia: Entire roster
Pittsburgh: Entire roster
St. Louis: Entire roster
San Francisco: Barry Bonds
San Diego: Mike Cameron
Seattle: Arthur Rhodes, Jason Ellison
Tampa Bay: Carl Crawford
Texas: Ron Washington1
Toronto: Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas, Royce Clayton, Mickey Brantley
Washington: Dmitri Young

1One of only two African American managers in Major League Baseball
2Rivera was wearing 42 at time it was retired throughout the big league, so he's grandfathered in.

1 comment:

ryan said...

Great stuff you've written this week! You make me very proud to be your brother...