Houston manager Dusty Baker celebrated Jackie Robinson's legacy on the 73rd anniversary of the fall of the major league color barrier and lamented the lack of African Americans in today's game.
“It's frustrating because we've talked about it forever ... but it seems like the numbers are dwindling instead of increasing,” Baker said Wednesday.
Only 7.7% of big league players on opening day rosters last year were African American, down from 17% in 1990. Baker and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts are the only African American managers in the majors.
Baker appreciates that the league is making a “conscious effort” to get more young African Americans involved in baseball through programs such as Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities and is optimistic there can be a turnaround.
“Hopefully in this decade and the next decade there will be more guys that get a chance,” Baker said. “All they need is a chance. A lot of guys have been bypassed and overlooked.”
Robinson broke the color barrier April 15, 1947, for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His No. 42 was retired throughout the major leagues in 1997 by then-Commissioner Bud Selig. An annual Jackie Robinson Day started in 2004 and since 2009, all players, managers, coaches have worn his No. 42 to mark the day.
The Jackie Robinson Foundation launched a virtual learning hub to coincide with the day, and teams and players across the league took to social media and other online platforms to commemorate the occasion.
CC Sabathia and Harold Reynolds were among the former major leaguers reading excerpts from the book by Robinson's daughter, Sharon, titled “Jackie Robinson: American Hero.” She appeared in video vignettes and there are virtual and printable educational activities.
Chicago shortstop Tim Anderson spent time on a video call with 10 students who are in the White Sox Amateur City Elite program. The 26-year-old answered questions and talked about Robinson's legacy, and the responsibility he feels to get more African Americans involved in the game.
“There's not really many black kids in the league,” Anderson said. “So, who's going to motivate these kids? Who's going to inspire them? That's something I take pride in. I definitely always look forward to wearing No. 42.”
TULCO, the holding company founded by Thomas Tull, who produced the Robinson film “42” announced Wednesday that it had donated $4.2 million worth of personal protective equipment to organizations that serve African American and other communities in honor of Jackie Robinson Day.
The Seattle Mariners, who top current active major league rosters with nine African American players, hosted a roundtable discussion on YouTube to discuss Robinson's contributions. It was led by Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims and included second basemen Dee Gordon and Shed Long, former TinCaps outfielder Mallex Smith and Reynolds, a former Mariner and current MLB Network broadcaster, and Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Museum.
Baker didn't have the opportunity to meet Robinson but heard plenty of stories about him from Hank Aaron and other players and managers. He idolized Robinson growing up because of stories his father told him from the time he was a young child.
“He was a man that made it possible for me to not only play but manage and gave us all a great sense of pride about being a black American,” Baker said.
Roberts talked about his plans for the day on a radio show in Los Angeles on Wednesday morning.
“I think I'm going to celebrate today by just continuing to educate my son, my daughter about Jackie ... just take the time to go back and realize and talk about what he meant not only for baseball but our country and the world,” Roberts said.