Sixty years ago today, Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball. My favorite teams both suffered rainouts today, disrupting the celebrations planned for Philadelphia and Baltimore (where my Royals were to play), but I managed to catch some of the celebratory events held in other cities.
For me, it was especially moving to see so many players—in some cases, entire teams—wearing Robinson’s now-sacred No. 42. (Be sure to check out Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day photo galleries here. All those 42s will surely put a smile on your face.) Some argue that MLB should “un-retire” No. 42, as a way of bringing Robinson, and his legacy, to the fore more often. There’s definitely merit to that idea. But seeing every single St. Louis Cardinal, and every Chicago Cub, and every Seattle Mariner, and Florida’s Dontrelle Willis, and White Sox Jim Thome, and so many others, in No. 42 today sure made an impression on me. It seemed a very fitting way to remember a great man.
If you’d like to do some reading about Jackie Robinson, one place to start might be an essay that Hank Aaron wrote for Time magazine when it named Robinson as one of the 100 most important people in the 20th century. Here’s a taste:
Jackie Robinson had to be bigger than life. He had to be bigger than the Brooklyn teammates who got up a petition to keep him off the ball club, bigger than the pitchers who threw at him or the base runners who dug their spikes into his shin, bigger than the bench jockeys who hollered for him to carry their bags and shine their shoes, bigger than the so-called fans who mocked him with mops on their heads and wrote him death threats.
As Aaron wrote, it’s almost impossible now to understand how Robinson “withstood the things he did without lashing back.” But he did. Robinson is still teaching us lessons about selflessness.
This is a good day, of course, to reflect on Robinson and his legacy in baseball. It’s also a good day to think more generally about our civil rights—and our continuing duty to make sure that equality (in all areas) is something real, not just a platitude. It’s a day to remember how every facet of life, including sports, can play a role in effecting social change.