Major League Baseball observed a Jackie Robinson Day like no other Friday, with teams celebrating a man who broke the sport’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 while the racial reckoning continued.
Ten baseball games were postponed over two days as some teams joined other sports like the NBA, WNBA and MLS in protesting social injustice.
For Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, it’s a well-timed honor.
“I did find it almost crazy and kind of great, after everything that went down [Thursday] in baseball and in sports and with our organization as well, that we come right back here today and wear No. 42 and we go out there and celebrate Jackie Robinson and everything that he’s done for our game, and really, for the nation,” Baldelli said.
Jackie Robinson Day is usually on April 15, but the celebration was moved to Aug. 28 this season to accommodate the COVID-19-altered schedule, which started in late July. The date was chosen because it is the anniversary of the March on Washington in 1963 and also the day in 1945 when Dodgers GM Branch Rickey met with Robinson to discuss breaking the color barrier.
“I think [Robinson] would want us to talk about change,” said Rockies outfielder Matt Kemp, who is Black. “Coming up in the Dodgers organization and the name Jackie Robinson, it just meant so much more. I wore the jersey that Jackie Robinson wore back in the day. To be around guys like Don Newcombe and Maury Wills, some of the legends that were with the Dodgers, you get to hear stories about things that people have never heard.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone broke down in tears during a media briefing and left the room when he was asked about his two Black adopted sons Friday. He returned a few minutes later, still shaken.
“I would just say, I know I’m talking to a lot of people out there, it’s a hard, heavy year, and a heartbreaking year in so many ways,” Boone said. “For my family, too. But I think that’s the case for a lot of people of all different backgrounds and races.
“My prayer is just that we can continue to, even though we’re going through some dark times, at the end of this, we’re better for it. That’s my continued prayer.”
Boone was emotional throughout the briefing, saying he had spent the previous hour talking to Yankees players about protests in recent days. New York was off Thursday and has not opted out of any games, and Boone said the team planned to play its doubleheader Friday against the Mets as scheduled.
Boone also said he will donate his paycheck Friday to The Players Alliance, a group of more than 100 current and former Black major leaguers working to combat racial injustice. The Players Alliance made a video tribute on social media thanking Robinson that included past and present Black MLB players such as Mookie Betts, Curtis Granderson, David Price, Jason Heyward, Torii Hunter, Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder.
“It’s always good to see people communicate their heart, and we’ve seen a lot of that,” Boone said before walking away.
MLB announced that its partnership with the Jackie Robinson Foundation would extend through 2023. It includes $3.5 million to support the foundation’s Scholarship Program, the Jackie Robinson Museum and the annual JRF ROBIE Awards.
Teams across the league were celebrating the day in various ways. As usual, players, managers, coaches, umpires and other on-field personnel were wearing Robinson’s No. 42.
“Our longstanding partnership with the Jackie Robinson Foundation has given us the opportunity to support more than 150 students, many of whom are on their way to becoming leaders of their respective industries,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “We welcome the newest class of JRF Scholars to this program as they take their first steps toward successful academic and professional careers. We are also thrilled to expand our contributions to the Jackie Robinson Museum. Jackie has inspired generations, including current players, to stand up for their beliefs and to speak out against injustice.”
Diversity hires on the rise
A diversity report released on Major League Baseball showed a modest increase in its overall diversity hiring practices, spurred by its improved gender diversity.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics and Sport at Central Florida gave MLB an overall score of 80.7, which was a letter grade of B. That’s up from a 79.5 in 2019. The grade for racial hiring dropped slightly from 89.4 to an 88.7 for a B-plus, while gender hiring increased from 69.6 to 72.7 for a C.
Richard Lapchick, the institute’s director and lead report author, called baseball’s gender hiring improvement a “highlight” of this year’s study. At the beginning of the 2020 season, there were 21 women who had on-field coaching or player development positions, which is up from seven in 2018.
“It wasn’t that long ago that a thought about a woman on the field was not in anyone’s consciousness,” Lapchick said. “Having 21 women on the field is a dramatic jump. I think everyone saw that when the NBA started hiring and interviewing women there was a positive public reaction. MLB knew that would be good on the game.”
The study said one of the sport’s biggest diversity challenge was that the overwhelming portion of majority owners — 39 of 40 — were white. The one who is not is Arturo Moreno of the Los Angeles Angels. He’s the only Latino majority owner in American professional sports.
Emotional win for Smith, Mets
Dominic Smith hit the go-ahead home run in his first game since tearfully pleading for help combating racial inequality, Pete Alonso also connected and the New York Mets beat the crosstown Yankees 6-4 in the opener of a doubleheader. Smith, a 25-year-old Black man, wept Wednesday night reflecting on a recent shooting by police of Black man Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. Smith and his teammates were all smiles after his decisive solo shot against Chad Green in the sixth inning. Alonso pounded on the dugout railing and the Mets bench went wild while Smith rounded the bases at Yankee Stadium. Inspired by the emotional comments from the usually upbeat Smith, the Mets staged a walkout protest against racial injustice with the Miami Marlins on Thursday night. The Yankees lost their sixth in a row ... The Mets and Miami Marlins have rescheduled Thursday’s game postponed by player protest for next Monday in New York. It’s the last mutual day off for the clubs this season and will require the Marlins to fly up from Miami between home games scheduled against Tampa Bay on Sunday and Toronto on Tuesday ... The Yankees placed right fielder Aaron Judge on the 10-day injured with a strained left calf just days after the star slugger returned. Judge was activated Wednesday but aggravated the injury in a game at Atlanta and was removed in the sixth inning. New York promoted top outfield prospect Estevan Florial to be the 29th man, batting the 22-year-old seventh and starting him in center field. ... The Chicago White Sox acquired speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson in a trade with Pittsburgh and reinstated Nick Madrigal from the 10-day injured list ... Two people with knowledge of the trade tell The Associated Press that the Oakland Athletics have acquired infielder 2019 All-Star infielder Tommy La Stella from the Los Angeles Angels for infielder Franklin Barreto ... Friday’s doubleheader in Detroit between the Tigers and Minnesota Twins was postponed because of bad weather. The teams now have a doubleheader scheduled for Saturday that allows them to make up one of Friday’s two games. The other is being made up as part of a doubleheader at Minnesota on Sept. 4 — the Tigers will be the designated home team for that makeup game. The Tigers and Twins had two games scheduled Friday after both teams decided not to play the series opener Thursday night amid athlete protests for racial justice. A doubleheader was scheduled for Friday, but the weather wouldn’t cooperate. There was a delay of over an hour before the postponement was announced.