For the fourth year in a row on Sunday, every player around MLB took the field in a No. 42 jersey on Jackie Robinson Day, in honor of the brave man who broke baseball's color barrier 65 years ago, on April 15th, 1947.
The tribute, then, is nothing new, though it's no less of a fitting way to pay homage to Robinson. His journey to sports stardom, most notably during a Hall of Fame career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the impact that it had, can still be felt by every major leaguer today, in every clubhouse across the country.
Let's not forget, though, that Jackie Robinson Day is as much a cause for celebration as it is one of solemn remembrance—an occasion to reflect on the diversity of America's pastime and hardships faced, past, present and future. The international influence on the game has grown considerably over the years, with players from all around the world, Latin American and Asia in particular, rising to prominence on the diamond.
Yet, baseball's footprint in the African-American community is as small as it's been in decades. According to USA Today, African-Americans make up just 8.05 percent of major league rosters, a dramatic drop from the all-time high of 27 percent in 1975 and less than half of the 17.25 percent in the Big Leagues in 1959, when the Boston Red Sox became the last team to integrate their clubhouse.
What's more, a quarter of MLB's African-American players are spread across three teams—the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Angels—while nine teams employed no more than one African-American on their Opening Day rosters.
It's a troubling decline—one that MLB has attempted to turn around with programs like Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) but has yet to gain much traction throughout the game—coaches and front-office personnel included.
Of course, having everyone wear Jackie's number for a day doesn't change that, but at the very least, it does provide some impetus for weighing the past against the present and considering what can be done for the future.
An educated guess would suggest that Robinson would be none too pleased with the state of the game, with African Americans making up less than 10 percent of active rosters and occupying only two top front-office posts and two managerial jobs in the dugout.
But, with stars like Matt Kemp and Prince Fielder occupying the limelight, and Magic Johnson serving as the face of Jackie's old team, perhaps that'll all change in the years to come. Perhaps, there will be a demographic shift on the diamond.
For now, it's important that baseball continue to honor Jackie, not just as an important relic of the game's history, but also as a man whose legacy upon which the game can and will build a brighter future.
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