CHARLOTTE, April 11, 2013 – Jackie Robinson did more than simply change the face of baseball when he broke the race barrier in the sport sixty-six years ago. Robinson changed the course of history.
He opened the gates for African American athletes to compete in all team sports, not just baseball and, in the process, he was also a major catalyst in the civil rights movement in America.
Jackie Robinson was ahead of his time. He changed racial attitudes for eight years before Rosa Parks even became a headline
Now Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Baseball, wants to throw a politically correct monkey wrench into the mix by doing research to find out why only 7.7% of major league baseball players today are black.
Measuring Robinson’s impact on sports is virtually impossible. White athletes have been playing baseball since its beginnings in the 19th Century. For decades the standard for career home runs was established by Babe Ruth at 714. Hank Aaron surpassed Ruth with 715 in 1974 and shattered Ruth’s career milestone with a total of 755 homers.
In less than thirty years, a black baseball player had set a new home run record in less than half the time it took his white counterpart. Even today, only eight players in history have hit more than 600 career home runs. Of those eight, only one, besides Babe Ruth, is white, and Jim Thome ranks seventh on the list.
It should be noted that two of the eight, Barry Bonds (African American) and Sammy Sosa (Dominican), have questionable statistics due to baseball’s steroid controversy.
Even so, the fact remains, if you eliminate Bonds and Sosa as credible, half the remaining number of home run leaders is black.
When taken into account, the influence of black athletes in modern team sports is truly phenomenal, and much of that can be attributed to Jackie Robinson, which only serves to magnify the irrelvance of Bud Selig’s proposed research. Why does it matter that less than eight percent of major league baseball players are African American?
Major league baseball is no longer a racially closed society. Latin and Japanese players are an accepted and dominant part of the modern game. College and professional basketball players are predominantly black. Professional football has a high percentage of African American players. Does that mean baseball has to be more black?
When Jackie Robinson played his first game in 1947 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, baseball was the king of American sports for many reasons. Even non-fans could recite starting line-ups from memory and classes in school were suspended so kids could listen to the World Series on the radio.
It was an era before air conditioning when even the smallest towns in the country had a team of one sort or another. It was cooler to eat a hot dog and drink a big Coke and watch a baseball game in the summer than to sit at home and listen to the radio. Television was a luxury for the average American and there were no sports to watch on TV anyway.
Baseball was a daily event. It was a source of conversation. It was part of the fabric of American life. Yogi and Duke were household names.
There were also Negro leagues which arose because black players had no opportunities to compete elsewhere. Basketball and football were in their infancy, still decades from achieving the popularity of today.
The result: Jackie Robinson, and other black major league players, were a major change in the dynamics of American society. Even by 1974, when Hank Aaron hit home run number 715 to pass Babe Ruth, he was receiving death threats. The black pioneers of baseball did not have it easy.
By the 60s and 70s, however, those dynamics were changing. Not only was television readily accessible to the masses, it was in color and there were more games to watch. Being indoors to watch football and basketball was more comfortable and faster paced than the slow moving traditions of baseball.
But there were two other factors that brought significant changes to American sports appeal. First, basketball and football did not require a lot of equipment for kids to play a sandlot or pick-up game. And second, it eventually became quicker to make your way out of the ghetto through basketball and football than by playing baseball.
Few other aspects of society are more democratic than sports. In general, if you are among the best, you play and race has little or nothing to do with your ability or your chances for success. Blacks do not play baseball today because they have discovered other sports they like better.
Society is an ever-evolving process, and it is nothing more complicated than that. It need not matter in any way what percentage of any ethnic group participates in any sport. If an athlete is capable and can provide sports fans with the enjoyment they seek, that should be enough.
Jackie Robinson was a groundbreaker. He was a pioneer who should be revered and honored for his accomplishments in baseball and his contributions to sports and to American values.
Let’s not diminish his remarkable achievements by seeking athletic parity in sports for the sake of political correctness.
Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club, which creates, and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more.
Inquiries for groups can be made at Peabod@aol.com Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others.
As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 71 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries. He also played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte.
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