Major League Baseball has dedicated the 1997 season to the memory of Jackie Robinson and his historic
breaking of the color barrier in baseball. Few will argue with the importance of this event, and even
fewer will argue with Jackie Robinson's vital role in the history of baseball and the cultural history of
the nation. But Jackie Robinson deserves our praise for another reason.
In addition to being the first black baseball player in the majors, Jackie Robinson was also one of the
finest baseball players in the league. When he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1957, the team was in need
of a strong leadoff hitter and defensive player. Jackie Robinson filled both roles and helped lead the
Dodgers towards the pennant.
Jackie Robinson played in an era of unbelievable tension. Because of the color of his skin, Jackie Robinson
wasn't allowed to stay in many of the hotels where the rest of the team lived whilethey were on the road.
In addition, many of the other teams in the league refused to play against the Dodgers as long as Jackie
was on the field. The fans would yell racial slurs and threats at him while he was playing, and some threw
objects from the stands in an attempt to injury him.
Jackie Robinson set the standard for black ballplayers and baseball players everywhere. Yes, Jackie Robinson broke the
color barrier in baseball. And yes, Jackie Robinson served as a role model to all black athletes in sports. But what I admire
Jackie Robinson most for was his determination, in the face of great adversity, to be a great ballplayer. It
mattered more to Jackie Robinson that he bat above .300 and contribute to his team's success, than to pave the
way for other black athletes. Jackie Robinson saw himself as a member of a team.
In an era of big contracts, and a lack of player loyalty, the truest memory of Jackie Robinson, I believe, should
be his legacy as a great ballplayer and leader on the field, and then as an positive influence in the community and
for black athletes everywhere. While Jackie Robinson knew that the future of blacks in Major League Baseball depended on
his willigness to fight the racism and hatred directed at him, he was more concerned, and rightly so, with
the success of the Dodgers and his his role as a baseball player in that success.
As I travel around the country visiting ballparks, I will join fans and players in honoring Jackie Robinson and his
memory during this 50th Anniversary Season of his historic feat. And as I attend ceremonies in honor of Jackie Robinson,
and visit stadiums that have displays recognizing his accomplishments, I will be sure to display them on the page
so everyone can share in this special season. But I hope that when I meet with fans and with executives from
each team, that at least some will realize the importance of his accomplishments, and above all, his talent
as a Major League ballplayer.
What do you think about Jackie Robinson's influence on baseball?
Send me your comments!
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