It was 66 years ago that the single biggest moment in baseball took place on a little patch of green grass in Brooklyn known as Ebbets Field, a moment that transcended the sporting world and continues to have an impact on society. Of course, it was the day Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier and with it, lifted the curtain on the era of civil rights in the United States.
I think sometimes we take for granted the enormity of that day and at the same time, forget how far we have come since. One man who does not forget is former Mets manager Willie Randolph, who told me recently, “It was not just about baseball but it affected every piece of society in that it made us aware of changes that had to be made. And let’s face facts I would not have ever managed in this sport if he did not arrive on that day.”
What I have thought was always the most impressive part about No. 42 was the restraint he exhibited because he knew what was at stake. That restraint was not always easy according to his wife, Rachel Robinson. “We knew it would be hard and when he went to places like St. Louis it was awful for him because in many ways, Jackie represented their worst nightmare. However, he let it all roll off his back because if he failed, Major League Baseball might have abandoned integration.”
Former major leaguer Gary Matthews Jr., whose dad also played in the major leagues, thinks that the memory of Jackie Robinson should be a constant reminder that more work still needs to be done. “We all need to be aware that reaching the inner city children in this country is of utmost importance," says Matthews, “and I do not just mean African-American kids because Hispanic and white youngsters need to hear the message as well.” And that message of diversity is a necessary ingredient for a successful and prosperous society.
The best way to defeat racism is to have the courage to change no matter what the cost. For Jackie Robinson, it likely shortened his life -- but it greatly enhanced our lives in ways that are impossible to measure.
Today would be Jackie's 94th birthday so lets for at least a fleeting moment remember that he embodies the true spirit of all Americans and illustrates that diversity works in the greatest country in the world.