I want to know if Jackie Robinson is a pioneer, man who made the country and baseball greater or a blip that changed nothing in this terribly racist country. I’m tired of celebrations that want it both ways. The ESPN game over a week ago was ridiculous in the way they parsed his legacy.
They treat him as a great baseball player greater than his numbers suggest. And since he didn’t lose years and years to the Negro league like so many of his contemporaries, he only played one year in the Negro Leagues (1946), it’s a harder case to make than compared to Satchel Paige (rookie at 41), or Monte Irvin (rookie at 30 after 12 years in the Negro Leagues). Jackie’s career was more like Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio who lost some pivotal years because of the war and college.
Jackie had about 8 solid years and according to Baseball Reference dot com, a career comparable to Greg Jefferies or Edgardo Alfonzo two of my productive IBL guys and nowhere near the HOF. Not one of the BR factors in considering HOF is met in his numbers alone. It’s obvious that Jackie is in the HOF because his legacy is greater than his ability. So embrace it.
I’ve been scratching my head for weeks wondering why they overstate his on-the-field career and it came to me this morning. If he wasn’t a great player then what was he great at? He was great because he changed baseball. Like Lincoln made the country live up to the Declaration of Independence, Rickey and Robinson made baseball do the same. But the media won’t invest in that reason alone, because they want to hold MLB’s feet to the fire over other racial issues that they see as ongoing. If the race problem is ongoing, then Robinson is suspect as a social activist alone. If we're still talking about the same problems 60 years later how effective was he? He needs to be great at something that doesn't interfere with their whining.
Frank Robinson was in the booth talking about how great Jackie was and then admitted that Jackie made his life not one ounce easier. He then explained that he was making $180,000 as a player and was offered the job as player/manager for $200,000 a year. He wanted to simply be a manager but the team wouldn't pay him all that money unless he played too. He didn't like it but decided that he'd take the job anyway for the "cause." I loved that. When my dad got out of the Army in the late 1960s, he worked as a barber on his feet 9am-9pm Monday through Saturday for a salary of $125 a week. That's less than $2 an hour. And here poor ole Robinson is taking $20,000 extra for the "cause."
On ESPN that night, Dave Winfield was saying that blacks are just 8% of the MLB down from 28%, and Peter Gammons admonished scouts for their fear of going into the inner-cities. We all know that Caribbean players are dominating major league baseball because they aren’t subject to the amateur draft. Teams can spend their money more wisely down there and sign more players per dollar. Scouting in America is pointless when some other team is going to grab up your find. There are some small town players that maybe only one or two scouts know, but most guys are watched by ten people at a time. You want more scouts in the inner cities? End the amatuer draft and let the scouts sign anyone, organizations will pour into the inner city.
Everybody on the broadcast was trying to be more downbeat than the next person. Joe Morgan said that sure, black managers are hired, but they never get a second chance. He said look at Cito Gaston, he won 2 World Series and then disappeared. Then he named Don Baylor and Dusty Baker two guys that have had multiple chances, both even managed the Cubs recently. And don’t forget he had just talked to Frank Robinson that managed at least four teams I can remember. Why didn't Joe Morgan name ex-teammate Tony Perez? Because Perez didn't deserve a second chance. He immediately thought of the deserving people and it disproved the point he was trying to make.
Baseball has the mandatory policy of interviewing a minority for every managing job making guys like Willie Randolph fly cross-country to talk about jobs already spoken for. It absolves baseball from looking ineffectual but it puts the pressure on minority candidates that may be wasting their time. I’m sure any number of teams could use a better manager and if Joe Morgan could name a little-known coach that he thinks can manage he should go to bat for the guy, but to complain about percentages is weak. It’s easy. It’s simply proving enlightenment. Baseball is a business and an owner is not going to hire a weak white manager because he hates blacks. Willie Randolph would be managing the Yankee right now had Torre stepped down.
What I did not hear once during the broadcast was Hank Aaron’s struggle and how it must have been a lot harder for him than Barry Bonds. What we did get was a big ole dose of collective guilt that we were all to swallow and ponder regardless of whether it was authenticly earned.