Jackie Robinson Day Comes and Goes with Fanfare, Disappointment

Olaf BerserkusCorrespondent IApril 16, 2008

Tuesday, April 15th, was the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson playing his first game in the majors—the game in which he broke the color barrier.

It was also the fifth annual Jackie Robinson Day, where Major League Baseball celebrates the man and the feats he accomplished.

To mark the celebration, pre-game ceremonies took place in each stadium where games were played, special Jackie Robinson Day home plates were used, and certain players were allowed to wear Robinson's retired number 42.  Some of these players were Ken Griffey Jr., Derrek Lee, and Scott Hairston.

Griffey Jr. and Lee gave Robinson an extra special tribute by hitting home runs in the good old number 42.

In contrast to the amazing celebrations taking place all over the country in honor of Robinson, a report was released stating black players now make up a mere 8.2 percent of Major League Baseball players.

This is the lowest proportion in decades and way below the number of 27 percent during the mid 1970s.  

The black athlete's impact on the game of baseball cannot be understated.

Since 1974, the holder of the all-time home run record has been a black man—first Hank Aaron, now Barry Bonds.  The greatest catch in baseball was made by a black man—the Say Hey Kid, Willie Mays.  The record for most MVP awards is seven, held by Bonds.

Unfortunately, if the current trend continues, there may not be anyone left to carry the torch of those players.  That is not to say that there will not be any black athletes left, but with their numbers dwindling their impact may dwindle too.

Other professional sports are stealing young black athletes.

The NFL and the NBA are bigger marketing machines in terms of the individual.  The endorsement deals are more lucrative in those sports.  MLB now has to compete with those leagues, unlike during the 1960s and 70s when those leagues were still fledgling entities.

It is in the best interest of MLB to revive the black athlete in its sport.

It is trying to accomplish this through Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI).  This program is aimed at getting inner city youth interested in playing baseball.  The hope is that by getting inner city youth to play baseball again, they can secure a future for the black athlete in Major League Baseball.

Robinson's legacy is something to be celebrated.  One can only hope when MLB celebrates the 100th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier that a discussion of the decline of the population of black athletes does not follow it closely.