Major League Baseball Takes Time Today to Honor a Trailblazer

We are a country that enjoys commemorating achievements in all shapes and sizes.

Some call it the American spirit while others might call it an attempt to ensure that the sacrifices of those that have gone before us are remembered long after they are no longer walking amongst us.

Just last week the 150th anniversary of the end of the United States Civil War was celebrated at Appomattox Court House, Virginia where General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant.

While Appomattox Court House is certainly among the central historical places in America, memorials of all shapes and sizes can be found from sea to shining sea as a way of helping to ensure that history is not forgotten.

Of course sometimes a memorial is not made out of brick and stone but is instead comprised of flesh and blood.

Today marks one of those occasions to remember and honor a flesh and blood memorial who, against all odds, changed the face of the country.

Each year on April 15 Major League Baseball teams stop to remember Jackie Robinson. Photo R. Anderson

Each year on April 15 Major League Baseball teams stop to remember Jackie Robinson.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from being Tax day April 15 is also Jackie Robinson Day which a day sat aside to pay homage to an achievement of courage and determination in breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

While many fans may have only heard of Jackie Robinson following the release of the movie 42, his impact on the game of baseball stretches back nearly 70 years.

On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first African American to step foot on a Major League Baseball field when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The world of baseball for Jackie Robinson, and many other players like him, was far different from the world of baseball today.

I am not referring to jumbotrons and jumbo hot dogs or any of the other things that have found their way into the modern game of baseball. I am not even talking about the designated hitter.

Prior to 1947 there were no minority players on any of the teams in the highest level of professional baseball. It took an owner willing to do what others wouldn’t in Branch Rickey, and a player willing to withstand insults from on the field and in the stands in Jackie Robinson, to pave the way for those that came behind them.

For people of a certain age, like me, it is nearly impossible to picture a segregated baseball diamond. From my earliest recollections there were people of all shapes and sizes and races on the field.

Jackie Robinson Day at Minute Maid Park.  Photo R. Anderson

Jackie Robinson Day at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

Look at the rosters of the 30 MLB teams today and one will find players from six continents.

None of that would have been possible without someone taking the first step to desegregate the diamond.

So it is fitting to take time to honor Jackie Robinson’s sacrifice and to ensure that generations who were not alive back in 1947 can learn the story and know that without the sacrifices of people like Jackie Robinson the world would be an entirely different place.

One of my favorite quotes is “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It was first stated in the early 20th century by George Santayana, but the phrase is still as true today as it was when first spoken. Society must continue to learn from history so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

During the annual celebration of Jackie Robinson there are always a select few who will state in various outlets Robinson’s inclusion in the Baseball Hall of Fame was based solely on him being first to break the color barrier and is not reflective of his playing ability.

Of course, a quick look at his career statistics show that based on the merits of his play alone Jackie Robinson is every bit of a Hall of Fame caliber player and is included as much for what he did as a player as well as what he did as a trailblazer.

As part of Jackie Robinson Day each player on every team wears the number 42 as a show of respect and solidarity.

In 1997, on the 50th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game,  Major League Baseball retired the number 42 on all teams in honor of Jackie Robinson. As part of the number retirement players who were still wearing 42 were grandfathered in and allowed to keep wearing the number for the remainder of their careers.

Following Mariano Rivera’s retirement at the end of the 2013 season no player will ever again wear the number 42 in Major League Baseball.

There are still trails to blaze in a variety of areas and memorials will continue to be built for those individuals who conquer that new ground. But each new trail that is blazed is built upon the foundation of those who showed the way through their own courage.

History is a great thing to honor but the promise of the future can be equally exciting.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to figure out how to keep track of all of these 42’s on my scorecard.

Copyright 2015 R Anderson