Blacks scarce at annual Jackie Robinson Day game

By Charles Hallman, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

Does anyone really care anymore?

MINNESOTA — This year’s annual Jackie Robinson Day (April 15) held by Major League Baseball (MLB) has come and gone.

Unfortunately, as I sat last Saturday in a virtually all-White press box watching a game where players of both teams wore Robinson’s No. 42 on the 70th anniversary of his breaking baseball’s modern-day color barrier in 1947, just three African-American players and two African American coaches were on the field. I barely saw any Black fans at the Minnesota Twins’ downtown ballpark.

Does anyone really care about Jackie Robinson anymore?

“It’s largely symbolic,” wrote Hall-of-Famer Dave Winfield last week on the MLB Players Association’s website about the day honoring Robinson, who’s also in the Hall of Fame.

Robert A. Qualls on his Tailor-Made Media simply points out that after “sports writers and talking heads have chimed in on the significance of Jackie Robinson…it’s back to business as usual tomorrow.”

In other words, any further discussion on the lack of diversity, the dwindling number of U.S.-born Black ball players (now less than seven percent), and even lower percentages in college, high school, and youth baseball is typically tabled by mainstream media types until the next J.R. Day rolls around next spring.

“I would hope that people care [about Robinson], and people would come to understand the huge sacrifice that was made for myself and for any Black player or coach, or anybody in this [sport],” noted Twins first-year Batting Coach James Rowson. Standing outside the team’s locker room prior to last Saturday’s game, he added, “Jackie provided that opportunity for us to be able to walk into those clubhouses.”

It’s harder to hit a 90-100 MPH fastball thrown to a baseball hitter than it is to dunk a basketball or run down a football field. Baseball also is a sport where success is seemingly measured negatively:

“If [hitting] .300 is a success, [then] you’re not successful seven times out of 10,” noted Frank White. We talked in front of a newly installed Black baseball exhibit at the stadium’s Town Ball Tavern. “I think it’s important for people to walk through here and see that we had Black baseball players that were excellent.”

“Jackie Robinson wouldn’t be happy with where things are today,” said the St. Paul-born Winfield on the fact that there are more Latin-born players in the majors than American-born Blacks. “Baseball has always been the number-one game for me.”

J.R. Day has been in existence since former MLB commissioner Bud Selig announced in 1997 that forevermore each team will permanently retire Robinson’s number, only to be worn by players once each season on April 15 to honor the day Robinson first played in the majors.

So where were the Black fans last Saturday? You would think at least a good portion of the nearly 26,000 persons in attendance at the Minnesota-Chicago contest should have been Blacks. Where was the promotional build-up for this annual event?

Does anyone care about Jackie Robinson anymore?

“We need…to get people involved in the game,” said Rowson.

“I’d like to see more African-Americans on the field, in front offices, and in managerial jobs,” stressed Winfield, echoing Robinson’s insistence in the years after he retired in 1956 and up until his death in 1972. “I’d like to see more substantive progress… I’d love to see numbers and percentages, more inclusion, more participation, more fans.”

Charles Hallman can be reached via email at challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

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