Keeping the Jackie Robinson torch alive

LOS ANGELES-Baseball and Jackie Robinson go hand-in-hand. One could not do without the other. Where would baseball be today without the imprint Robinson left on the game?

Robinson could not go down in history as the revered iconic figure he is without the Brooklyn Dodgers (now Los Angeles Dodgers) and Major League Baseball deciding it was time to break the color barrier in sports.

Fortunately for the rest of us, the story does not conclude there. Robinson was more than a gesture of moral goodwill. He became an All-Star. He worked his opportunity to be equal into a valid Hall of Fame career.

Like anything else that he had to endure during his playing career in the big leagues, everything Robinson got, he earned. What Robinson did on April 15, 1947, was more than a baseball moment. It was a teaching exercise for the rest of America. Robinson’s grand introduction into this country club taught us the real value of tolerance. Preaching inclusion was on full display.

Mrs. Jackie Robinson, Rachel Robinson (third center), Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, team owner Magic Johnson and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson help celebrate Jackie Robinson Day on Friday, April 15, 2016. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com
Mrs. Jackie Robinson, Rachel Robinson (third center), Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, team owner Magic Johnson and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson help celebrate Jackie Robinson Day on Friday, April 15, 2016. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

It was a true man in the mirror moment for the United States and the sport of baseball. It forced baseball and the rest of America to examine its racial and bigoted practices toward African Americans. Unfortunately, those practices are still in play in 2016, even for those who were not around the time Robinson made history.

African Americans and other minority groups are still subjected to the deceitful disguise of racial intolerance that Robinson openly endured. We weren’t there, but African Americans like myself know the ugly feeling all too well of being frozen out by white colleagues.

It is a terrible feeling to come to grips with the reality that at times when I step into a press box as a black reporter, I am gawked at and quietly frowned upon as someone who does not belong there in the first place.

And you’re treated as such.

As Robinson did in 1947, we must always prove we belong. The racism is not blatant as it was in 1947, but it is just as real. If you’ve ever experienced racism or hatred directed towards you just because of the color of your skin instead of being judged for the content of your character, you come to understand that this is a lifelong plight, not an abbreviated journey.

robinson3
Danny Bakewell Sr. wears his Jackie Robinson replica jersey as he throws out the ceremonial first pitch on Jackie Robinson Day on Friday, April 15, 2016. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

With that being said, what makes the Robinson breakthrough so remarkable is that he refused to let other people’s backward ideology define him, who he was and where he was going. He would not allow racist bigots get in the way of him achieving greatness. What was at stake was bigger than him.

Robinson got the big picture that if he cracked there probably would not be others to follow behind him. Staying the course meant being quiet and taking the heat for an entire race. Fair or unfair, the success and or the failure of blacks being integrated into major league baseball on a permanent basis was riding on his back.

That was an enormous burden to carry for one man. Robinson carried it, though. He carried that responsibility with dignity and class. While his critics ramped up their vile taunts, Robinson would claim victory with his production on the field.

Those old guard feelings would take decades to break, but Branch Rickey brilliantly set the tone to knock down those walls when he launched the Jackie Robinson experience on this nation.

Today, we are the beneficiary of that bold and risky move Rickey and the Dodgers made.

robinson4
No. 42 is alive and well in Dodgerland. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

Friday, April 15, 2016, was a special day all around for the Dodgers and the Robinson family. It was Jackie Robinson Day. The baseball and softball teams from local Crenshaw High School received a history lesson when they were introduced to the Ken Burns’ PBS documentary about Robinson.

Scholarship recipients from the Jackie Robinson Foundation made their way to the baseball diamond to be recognized. Ceremonial first pitches were thrown out by Frank Robinson, the first black manager in Major League Baseball history, and by Danny Bakewell, a modern day civil rights advocate.

Both men illuminate what Robinson stood for when it comes to justice and equality. Then you had a game to be played by two teams that really don’t like each other very much. There is only one word that best describe the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants lovefest: rivalry.

robinson2
Frank Robinson, the first black manager in Major League Baseball and a Hall of Fame member, tosses the first pitch on Jackie Robinson Day on Friday, April 15, 2016. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

Topping that off were aces Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner throwing it down against each other. On paper, this had the look of a classic. Instead, it became the Enrique Hernandez show. Two of the best pitchers in baseball were not at their best. Get a little crack and somebody else will kick the door down.

Hernandez was that guy against Bumgarner, going yard on the Giants’ ace twice and driving in four runs. Hernandez got the party started in the first inning with a solo home run. The Dodgers collected nine hits in their 7-3 win. The Giants banged the ball around, but could not muster any more than five hits on the evening.

But before Kershaw and Bumgarner took the field to square off against one another, Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s wife, graced the sellout crowd with her elegant presence. That in itself was a special treat. At 93, Rachel Robinson, lit up Dodgers Stadium as she walked the field team owner Magic Johnson, Frank Robinson and Don Newcombe.

Jackie Robinson is somewhere looking down and smiling. He’s giving us his blessings to try to keep the fight for love of our fellow man, the bearings of tolerance and inclusion of others at the forefront of our daily lives.

He would not expect anything less. But if we fall short of that goal, then we’ve become nothing more than a bunch of frauds masquerading as peacemaking pimps in the form of a one day celebration to honor the man who broke the color barrier in once was America’s favorite pastime.

Black and white photo of Jackie Robinson appear courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The image first appeared in Look magazine in 1955. Photo was taken by Bob Sandberg

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1056 Articles
Dennis covers the NFL (San Diego Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). As a professional journalist, Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a graduate of Howard University.