On Sunday, every Major League Baseball player, manager and coach wore number 42. They wore it to honor the late Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947. Sixty-five years and as any player who was asked about Jackie this weekend told us, he is still making a difference.
Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson was joined by several other former players and Robinson’s daughter Sharon at a park at the site of the old Yankee Stadium on Sunday. They were there for a kids’ baseball clinic for the “Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities” program in Harlem. Every youngster that was present happily showed off new gloves and jerseys, before heading to the new Yankee Stadium for Sunday’s game between the Yanks and the California Angels. Yankee captain Derek Jeter and second baseman Robinson Cano, who is named for Jackie Robinson, joined Robinson’s widow Rachel and Sharon at home plate for a pre-game ceremony. Fifteen years ago MLB retired number 42 on every team. Today, only one active player still wears number 42; Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera, who is 42 years old.
Yankee centerfielder Curtis Granderson put it best as he talked about Robinson and his contributions to the game. Granderson said, “I think it’s a great thing for baseball. I think it’s a great thing for life in general, continuing to promote his legacy. I don’t think it’s been forgotten, with the number of kids coming up to me and saying, ‘Hey, my first book report was on Jackie Robinson.’These are 6-7-8-9 year olds doing it.”
Youngsters may be more and more aware of what Jackie Robinson did for his race and baseball. However, the number of African-American players making it to the big leagues is rapidly declining. USA Today reported that in 1975, 27% of Major League Baseball rosters were filled by African-Americans. By 1995, that number had dwindled to 19% and in 2012, only 8.1 % of big-league players are African-Americans. No one seems to know what the reason or reasons are for the decline, but I feel one of the reasons is a lack of opportunity to play our national pastime.
There has been special emphasis placed on basketball and football for young African-American athletes for a long time. If a youngster shows any talent at all, they are given chances to play on AAU teams and given opportunities to attend football camps on any college campus. Those sports are doing the job, though basketball especially offers fewer chances to play at a higher level. If a student is good enough to play at the college level, he has a chance for one of 85 scholarships in football (D-I) and one of 13 in basketball. But in baseball, on a thirty-man roster, the NCAA allows just 11.7 scholarships. That means on the average, each player receives a little more than one-third of a full scholarship. Considering that College Baseball offers the second-most profitable post-season playoff tournament on the NCAA level,( Only basketball makes more money) that is simply not fair.
It wasn’t fair on many fronts in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. He was cursed by fans and opponents alike. He was forced to sleep in hotel basements and was not allowed to eat in restaurants with his teammates. We all know very well the strife and turmoil he went through just to be able to play baseball.
In Chattanooga this summer a movie starring Harrison Ford will be filmed at historic Engel Stadium about Jackie Robinson. We can only hope the interest surrounding this movie can help create interest in baseball again for young African-American athletes. If Jackie Robinson were here today, that would make him a very happy man.
Contact Randy Smith at email@example.com
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 42 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer, author and is also a media concepts teacher at Red Bank High School in Chattanooga. He is currently teaching an "Intro To Sportscasting" class at Red Bank, the only class of its type in Tennessee. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 10 years. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry Davey and Alison Smith). They also have one grandchild (Coleman).