Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pic of the Week

We are all Jackie Robinson:
From left: Blue Jays first base coach Torey Lovullo,
Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez,
Blue Jays designated hitter Juan Rivera
and Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz.
Friday was Jackie Robinson Day, the anniversary of the day in 1947 when baseball's color barrier was broken, the day when every major league player, manager and coach wears No. 42, which is otherwise retired throughout the game.

I am of two minds on this practice. I am a great admirer of Robinson, both as a player and as a man, and he deserves honor and remembrance. Both he and Branch Rickey took great personal and professional risks to integrate baseball, and in the process they made both the game and the nation better and stronger. 

And before the Robinson number was retired, his story was in danger of being forgotten. The Robinson Day practice of hauling No. 42 out of mothballs is an annual lesson in history for generations of players and fans far removed from his era.

On the other hand ... the purpose of the uniform number is identification, to make it easier for the fan sitting several hundred feet away from the field to tell who it is playing shortstop. When everybody is wearing the same number, that primary purpose is lost.

The universal 42 is a political gesture, which is another problem. There are, as any given moment, some 960 men wearing major league uniforms. (Thirty teams, 25 active players per team, seven field staff, that comes to 960.) I doubt you can select 960 people at random and not come up with at least one racist, and I'm not a fan of mandatory groupthink. Robinson was a tremendously divisive figure in his lifetime —despised by racists on one side and militants on the other — and forcing a phony consensus on his memory is nearly as great a disservice as letting that memory fade.

1 comment:

  1. Let me just say that I really enjoy reading your posts, and this one is no different. However, I don't think I'm as divided on the issue as you are, in that I think the reason for the practice, and your first point, (the importance of remembering Robinson's achievement), far outweighs the negative aspects. I realize the numbers do serve as a helpful identification; however, the announcement of the starting line up as well as the player at bat minimizes the issue. As to the imposition of mandatory groupthink, the political groupthink in baseball is already so pervasive (standing for the national anthem, breast cancer awareness jerseys, etc.) that it's hard to find fault with one that's fairly innocuous. Granted, citing other instances of groupthink, is hardly an argument for another. However, I'm not sure these impositions are all that objectionable. What is more, the wearing of the number 42 isn't actually mandatory, but is specifically an invitation by the MLB and not a requirement. Finally, while there is the possibility that the practice of players wearing 42 could whitewash the historical divisiveness surrounding Robinson, with spectators simply led to clap along to a banal and "phony consensus," this certainly wasn't the case for me. In fact, to my shame, it was only after seeing this practice that I did any sort of thorough reading on the career and legacy of Jackie Robinson.
    All this to say, I whole-heartedly approve the practice.
    All the best and keep up the good work,
    Adrian (MN expatriate residing in New Jersey)