Has Baseball Betrayed Jackie Robinson?

The Associated Press
Thursday, April 12, 2007; 11:49 PM

NEW YORK -- Rachel Robinson still has vivid memories of April 15, 1947, when her husband changed America forever. As Jackie Robinson was getting ready to break baseball's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Rachel was hustling to get to Ebbets Field in time to see it.

She waited a long time for a taxi because drivers routinely passed up black passengers. She worried their baby, Jackie Jr., would be cold because she had dressed him in spring clothes. And she stopped at a hot dog stand in the ballpark, where a vendor was kind enough to heat up the boy's bottle.

"It was an exciting, exhilarating time _ but it also was a stressful time," Rachel Robinson said.

Reform is rarely a breeze. Sustaining a legacy can be even more difficult.

As Major League Baseball prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Robinson's landmark achievement on Sunday, there are growing concerns about the sport's racial makeup.

Only 8.4 percent of big league players last season were black _ the lowest number in at least two decades. In 1995, 19 percent of major leaguers were black, according to Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.

"Obviously, he would not be satisfied with where we are now," Rachel Robinson said, referring to the man she still calls Jack. "He would be disappointed, because he felt we were on the way toward some lasting change."

Has baseball betrayed Jackie Robinson?

"That's what it seems like to me _ that all the work he's done is almost for nothing," Minnesota Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said. "Because look where we are. We should be progressing. We're regressing."

To be fair, baseball is undeniably diverse in certain areas. More and more players are coming from Asia and especially Latin America. According to Lapchick, 29.4 percent of players last season were Latino and 2.4 percent were Asian. That means 40.5 percent were minorities, just below baseball's all-time high of 42 percent in 1997.

When evaluating opportunities for minorities in sports, does it matter which minorities?

It does to Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office and an architect of this spring's inaugural Civil Rights Game. His concern is baseball could reach a point where it's too late to stem the tide of indifference among black fans.

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