On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson made American History when he stepped out to field first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In doing so he became the first African-American ballplayer in the Major Leagues since Fleet Walker in 1884 for the Toledo Blue Stockings. Robinson’s debut was eight years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery County Bus, Martin Luther King was not yet 21, and President Truman had yet to desegregate the Army. Despite unrelenting abuse from both fans and his fellow players Robinson persevered and went on to 6 All-Star appearances, won the National League MVP in 1949, a 1955 World Series Championship, and a first ballot spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Although Robinson passed away from a heart attack in 1972, and the Dodgers have moved to Los Angeles since he retired, his position in Baseball History has only grown. This coupled with his grace in the face of prejudice is why every member Major League Baseball’s personnel will be wearing Robinson’s number 42, which has been retired league-wide since 1997, on Saturday, April 15th. Yet despite the celebration of Robinson’s legacy, there are still issues in Major League Baseball regarding race. For example, according to the Society for American Baseball Research African American participation in the Major Leagues has dipped below 7 percent of all active players, down from a peak of 18.7% in 1981 and its lowest since the 1950s when teams were still partially segregated. Worse still there are only a handful of African-American coaches and of those only Dusty Baker, and Dave Roberts are managers. This lack of coaching positions for African Americans is more troubling than even the low player numbers because as long as baseball is so non-diverse at the upper-levels is it really truly integrated? So, while it is important that MLB continues to celebrate Mr. Robinson more than that they must honor his legacy, as an American Hero.