Jackie Robinson made headlines over the weekend when New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson called Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson “Jackie” during Saturday’s game, triggering a hubbub between the two teams.
Whether Donaldson was joking, as he insisted, or whether he used Robinson’s name in a ‘racist’ way, as Sox manager Tony La Russa claimed, he was sure would be a heated debate. in all of baseball.
No matter where you stand on the matter, there’s no denying that Jackie Robinson’s name remains as relevant in baseball today as it was when he broke the major league color barrier 75 years ago. years.
If cooler heads prevail, it could be a teachable moment for Donaldson and anyone trying to figure out why Robinson’s use of the name was deemed ‘disrespectful’ by Anderson and ‘racist’ by La Russa. .
Robinson has endured public and private slights throughout his career, as most fans surely know. The mere idea of a black man entering the majors was such a sensitive topic in the late 1940s that Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey had an initial meeting with broadcaster Red Barber to give him a whim. .
Barber, who was born in Mississippi, was as popular a broadcaster in New York as Harry Caray later became in Chicago. According to Kostya Kennedy’s book, “True: The Four Seasons of Jackie Robinson”, Barber moved to Florida as a child and saw a black man “tarred and feathered and forced into the streets by the Ku Klux Klan” .
Kennedy wrote that Rickey wanted Barber to know his plan to integrate the Dodgers so Barber could look for another job if the broadcaster felt he couldn’t call a game with white and black players. After the meeting, Barber went home and told his wife, Lylah, what Rickey had said, then informed her that he was leaving the Dodgers.
Lylah said “let’s have a martini” and think for a few days. Kennedy wrote, “Barber came to some of what he would call ‘self-realization’ about the randomness of his lineage and place in the world or anyone else; on the second great commandment, “Love your neighbour”, and on his role as a journalist.
Barber decided to stay and report what he saw. During a 1949 broadcast in St. Louis, he informed listeners that Robinson and two other black players had been forced to stay in a substandard hotel in town with no air conditioning.
“By informing his audience of Brooklyn Dodgers fans of these circumstances, Barber had a small but direct influence on the way some people thought,” Kennedy wrote. “It was a striking situation.”
Baseball honors Robinson every April 15 by asking all of its players, coaches and managers to wear his number 42. But once this annual celebration is over, it looks like Robinson’s legacy will be forgotten for the rest of the season. and he just becomes another great baseball player. past.
It doesn’t have to be that way, and perhaps Donaldson inadvertently helped some remember the true significance of Robinson’s legacy with his ill-chosen remark during Saturday’s game in the Bronx.
For those seeking to understand the significance of Robinson and other black player contributions to the game, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, is updating an old exhibit with the help of Chicago Cubs great Fergie Jenkins.
“Twenty-five years ago, when MLB celebrated the 50th anniversary of Jackie breaking the color barrier, we hosted our first Black Baseball Expo,” Josh Rawitch, chairman of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, told me. Fame and Museum, Friday at the Jenkins statue. unveiling outside Wrigley Field. “This year, we announced that we were going to redo everything. Obviously, a lot has changed in 25 years.
The Hall of Fame museum exhibit, formerly called “Pride and Passion”, has been renamed “Ideals and Injustices”, a better description of the game’s refusal to fit in until Rickey’s bold decision in 1947.
“It’s basically the history of black baseball from most black leagues and up to Jackie and into the 70s,” Rawitch said. “It hasn’t really been updated after 1997, so now we’re going to have a whole new exhibit that will take up part of the Hall of Fame.
“We will also have a traveling exhibit that will travel to various black communities and cities across the country. It’s a major initiative that we believe will tell the story of 150 years of black baseball in America.
Their stories will be told again – and just in time for the return of Hall of Fame induction ceremonies from pandemic-related limitations in 2020 and 21. Negro League greats Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil – the first black coach in the majors with the Cubs – will be inducted posthumously on July 24, along with former White Sox star Minnie Miñoso, who began her playing career in the all-black league. . Miñoso was considered “the Latino Jackie Robinson,” as Rawitch reminded me, and also endured bigotry and injustice during his major league career.
Jenkins, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991, will serve on the advisory board for the new exhibit.
“We called him and he was thrilled to help us get the word out and tell the story properly,” Rawitch said.
The Donaldson-Anderson imbroglio is unlikely to get a mention in the Hall exposition, and it could be forgotten by the time the next baseball controversy surfaces.
But it’s a reminder of what the Jackie Robinson name still means to black players who follow in Robinson’s footsteps and to the rich history of a game he helped change for the better.