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Frank Robinson laments racial disparity in MLB as Indians unveil statue of him

Former Cleveland Indians manager and player Frank Robinson stands with his new statue commemorating his career. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Indians unveiled a new statue Saturday of their groundbreaking former manager Frank Robinson, who made history by hitting a home run during his managerial debut in 1975.

“Of all the pennants, World Series, awards and All-Star games I’ve been in, this is the greatest thrill,” Robinson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer at the time.

Robinson, the first-ever manager for the Washington Nationals, also made history by becoming Major League Baseball’s first African-American manager, a groundbreaking step for sure, but one that did not solve the racial disparity still found in the game today. For example, more than 40 years later, there are now just two black managers in MLB — the Washington Nationals’ Dusty Baker and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dave Roberts.

Dusty Baker advocates for more African Americans in MLB leadership positions

While Robinson used his speech during the statue’s unveiling ceremony to celebrate his career, he also made note of that continued racial disparity in baseball.

“It can get better,” he said (via the Associated Press). “We’re still not where we should be in the front office, in the dugouts and even now, the players’ roster.

He added: “We’re losing ground all the way around.”

Robinson’s comments come just a month after Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones was peppered with racial insults by fans while playing the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. The incident illustrated several challenges black players face in MLB, as well as how few African-American players there are in the league.

“As it turns out, according to a USA Today study, of 868 players on MLB rosters at the start of this season, only 62 were African Americans,” Post columnist Norman Chad wrote in April. “Heck, you could find a larger gathering of black men at an Engelbert Humperdinck concert.”

Chad added, more seriously: “American blacks constituted just 7.1 percent of Opening Day rosters, the lowest number since 1958.”

This disparity begins during childhood, when baseball is not always an option for kids in majority-black areas, such as the South Side of Chicago, where Chicago State pitcher Jamary McKinney grew up.

“Being from the South Side of Chicago, baseball is just not a big sport,” McKinney, then 19, told the Chicago Tribune last year. “It’s like being foreign on the South Side of Chicago. I get, ‘What sport do you play? You don’t look like a baseball player.’ ”

This lack of opportunity is what Robinson wants to see change, he said Saturday, noting that he wants to see prospective African-American players have a more equal chance at success.

“We’re not asking to be given anything,” Robinson said. “I want the people that want to be in this game to earn what they get.”

Robinson, who went on to manage the San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles and the Montreal Expos, who later became the Nationals, had 2,943 hits, including 586 home runs in his 21-year playing career. Along with the Indians, Robinson also played for the Cincinnati Reds, Orioles, Dodgers and California Angels. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

His new statue, which depicts him holding a list inscribed with that famous batting order from his debut game as manager, now stands in Heritage Park, alongside the likenesses of Bob Feller, Jim Thome and Larry Doby, the American League’s first African-American player.