Five months ago, Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, stood on a school playground in Los Angeles. The day was to honor her father, but also to recognize the children on the playground who ran this way and that, and chattered in two or three languages, and did not all look quite the same. They would play ball, and it was chaos, that perfect chaos of children having a wonderful time on a level (blacktop) playing field.[restrict]
Amid the bedlam, she was asked, as she always is, as she always will be, what Jackie would think of the baseball world today. She sighed, not for the repetitiveness of the question, I gathered, but for the repetitiveness of her answer.
“My father fought his entire life – and fights through all of us – to achieve equality in America,” she said. “Yes, he’s hopeful today.”
“I think he’d feel disappointed we’ve continued to struggle to build our numbers in baseball,” she continued. “Yet we see more brown faces on the playing fields. My father is the kind of person who would want to remind us we still have a ways to go.”
Her words were, as ever, smart and sincere. The real meaning, however, may have been in her sigh. The fight has been long and hard. Too long. Too hard. And here we are, all these decades later, wondering what happened. Or, what hasn’t happened. Our game is more colorful. To use Ms. Robinson’s word, browner.
Yet, does it seem equal to you? Does it seem to have grown, spread to everyone?
I loved what Adam Jones said this week. I agree with him. I loved that he said it and what comes next – for most – is a reasonable conversation, that the world didn’t collapse around him, that he went out and played center field at Fenway Park in Boston for three hours, and that urban baseball academies in Compton, in Cincinnati, in Philadelphia, in Houston, in New Orleans, in Gurabo, Puerto Rico opened their doors for another day.
“Baseball,” he told USA Today, “is a white man’s sport.”
There’s not much getting around that, is there? Commissioners, owners, general managers, field managers, coaches, scouts, the majority of the players and, perhaps, those who watch and write about the games are white.
So here we are. Again. Still.
I wonder how Jones’ words will play. If you are a parent of one of those boys and girls who shows up on those ball fields in Compton, and if that child asks about what Adam Jones said, does that become an encouraging moment? Or is it discouraging? Does it look hopeless out there? Or does the honesty play in the words of a strong man who looks like they do? Does any of it register at all?
Here are the numbers in major league baseball:
8 percent African-American
27 percent Latin American
There are puffs of change. In the past draft, six of the top 24 picks were African-American or Latin American, along with 10 of the top 41 and 17 of the first 77. Over five drafts, 34 of 168 first-rounders were African-Americans.
That’s where we are, in part. The concern is what now? What next? More academies, more outreach, more diversity, more voices, more leaders, more expression, more individuality, more marketing and more vision.
Then, of course, more men such as Adam Jones. And fewer sighs. [/restrict]