Tuesday is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball. Every player on all 30 MLB clubs will wear the number 42 on their backs — the same number Robinson wore when he broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948; the same number every club permanently retired save for one day a year.
“I’ve always known the significance of that number,” admits Minnesota Twins outfielder Aaron Hicks, the team’s only U.S.-born Black player, “definitely for me being a Black player.”
Hicks ranks Robinson in the same trailblazing light as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. “They are heroes, and he is right up there with them,” believes the second-year centerfielder. “He was the guy who took a lot of crap and handled it the right way. He did what he had to do to give guys like us and [other] Black players the opportunity to play this game.”
However, less than 10 percent of current MLB players are Black, a glaring sight not lost on league officials. Last week, MLB named former manager Jerry Manuel to supervise the day-to-day efforts of the On-Field Diversity Task Force, launched by Commissioner Bud Selig in 2013.
It has “three broad initiatives” now underway, each to address improving the talent pipeline of Black players:
1) Expanding MLB’s reach and involvement with existing urban baseball initiatives, such as Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities.
2) Implementing programs focused on improving the quality of coaching “to make the game more engaging.”
3) Focusing MLB’s marketing reach on urban communities, including “raising the profile of current and former Major Leaguers.”
“I believe that these recommendations mark the start of addressing our challenges and making the sport of Jackie Robinson more accessible to young players of all races,” notes Selig.
Hicks says he’s proud to wear the number of the man who was chosen to break a discriminatory barrier that denied talented baseball players the chance to play in the major leagues for the first part of the 20th century. “Not only him, but Satchel Paige and the guys who played in the Negro Leagues,” concludes the Twins outfielder.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman @ spokesman-recorder.com.