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Take A Token, And Keep Your Seat At The Back…

April 15, 2015

Today is the anniversary of Jackie Robinson appearing in a major league baseball game, breaking the artificial, self imposed ban on black or brown players in major league baseball. To honor Robinson, 1st there was a celebration in 1997 commemorating this day, all players wore the number 42 for Jackie. It was a wonderful gesture at the time. But now has become a satirical farce, that only serves to trivialize the man, and absolve the guilty for their actions.

What is the harm in having every player on the game roster wear “42”? First of all it trivializes the players in the game. It robs them of their individuality, and makes it some bland, confusing spectacle. “Who’s the new pitcher? Some guy in 42?” “Who is coming out of the game?” “Oh 42, for 42.. What?”

How nice to make your debut or only career appearance in the game so forgettable….

How about the meaning that is lost when EVERYONE gets to wear it? When this first was announced, some star players ASKED to be the ONE to wear Jackie’s number. How special. Honoring the legacy of Jackie by allowing the best of the best, continue his legacy, with their skill, in his name… Wonderful. Black or white, those individual players who asked, shared the conviction in Jackie’s message, and took PRIDE in his example and following it, and honoring it.

But MLB, in the name of political correctness and politics (that sentenced Jackie to a lifetime of mistreatment on the basis of race) could NOT have it be that only one player on each team, black or white or hispanic, could honor Jackie. No… they ALL would have to. Turning a heartfelt gesture into a travesty. Making matters even worse and more distasteful was the fact that major league baseball, then chose to take these game used jerseys and auction them off for money for causes. This made the now one time gesture, into a mandatory campaign to raise money… for several causes. Not just civil rights, or anything that resembled Jackie’s legacy or example.

Now, new generations of children will not identify Jackie for his bravery, his play, the measure of the man, a man who challenged until his death the powers of the game of baseball to be more inclusive and accepting of not just black, but hispanic players as well. Without Jackie Robinson, there is no Roberto Clemente, no Hank Aaron, no Ichiro Suzuki, no Hideki Matsui, or even no Derek Jeter. (Remember the race of his father…) Many people in the game and out of the game, living and dead owe their livelihoods to Jackie Robinson. And he has been reduced to a memory we bring out once a year, to feel shame, and use that shame to raise money… That is not what the man was about and what he lived and died for.

It was for the opportunity for every man to prove himself on the field. And let his talent dictate his path in life. If we really wanted to honor Jackie in the most simplistic way we could only have the African Americans wear 42. Or the Japanese players wear Mansanori Murakami’s number. Or have the Cuban players wear Martin Dihigo’s number. And celebrate the FULL legacy of Jackie’s example and what he meant to race and the opportunity for non-whites in the game of baseball. The chance for them to sit in first class on a charter jet, and not in the seat of another separate plane. To sit in the front seat of the bus or the train and not the back. The right to be respected and treated as equals, and not singled out solely because of just their race.

In celebrating Jackie is this way, mlb has chosen to celebrate and define Jackie by his race, and race alone. Which is exactly what was done to him and his brothers in the Jim Crow South. Institutional racism does still exist in America and corporate America, for sure. But we shouldn’t let them get away with absolving themselves of any and all accountability with empty, token gestures, that pat THEMSELVES on the back, while African American representation in the executive offices of clubs and the MLB office, and participation of African Americans in the game itself is LOWER than any time since Jackie integrated the game. This is no time for millionaires (the players) or billionaires, the commissioners/executives and owners, to pat themselves on the back and celebrate themselves for a job well done…

At this rate, African Americans will soon almost totally be OUT of the game. Will we be too busy celebrating Jackie Robinson’s seat in the bus, to notice the rest of Black America is out of it?

I would sure hope not…

MLB has a long way to go in revitalizing the game in the youth of  America to secure the next generation of fans and players. But they for now have been too busy seeking out “the next Jackie” they can sell to the public. They made money in Japan, some in Korea, and now look for their next player they can hold up to proclaim diversity, as an entire generation of fans and potential players are allowed to disassociate from the game and walk away from it, because the game isn’t trying or even caring to keep or have them.

With all that money and all that self interest, they should be using Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, and the players who played with and after Jackie to celebrate all that the game has to offer. Individual expression, a showcase for talent, and the ability to be paid what your talent is worth on the open market. The highlight of individuality and succeeding within the context of the group to share in the success for everyone. Everyone benefits from what their talent can create and demonstrate. The white player, the asian player, and the hispanic player all profit off of what the african american player can produce and contribute on the ball-field. THAT is America, and that which is uniquely American. More so than any other country, and is uniquely more so in the game of baseball, more than ANY other.

You would think the powers that be, of and in the game would want to celebrate THAT. Instead they celebrate permitting a man, to leave the back of one bus to sit in the back of a better bus. Then be shunned from the game, when he tried in vain to stay in it, after this playing days were over, and was no longer making money for the game, off of his example. Jackie died trying to create a life for the minority players of the game, after playing the game, And not letting baseball men, and their lifetime of contribition and sacrifice for the game, go and die and be wasted in vain. To an extent, he has succeeded. But still, the game refuses to address the cause and effect of only using the minority player for his playing skill, and discarding him, and his baseball skill, when he no longer can produce on the field. Mark McGwire abused steroids, broke hallowed records, and tarnished the game, the era in which he played, his legacy, and the legacy of baseball. And contributed to the death of teenagers who like him, abused steroids, and unfortunately died because of it. He admitted to “making mistakes” subverted justice in a congressional hearing, and got a shot as a hitting coach, first for the St.Louis Cardinals, under his old manager and co-conspirator, Tony La Russa (who would attack and vehiemently deny allegations against McGwire, while refuse to defend his teammate Jose Canseco, who was equally guilty and open with his used of steroids both in and out of the clubhouse) and now with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Under an ownership group approved by the Commissioner.Commissioner Selig could have reprimanded the Cardinals or the Dodgers for hiring McGwire. But he did not. This is just another example of a double standard and a very ugly side to the game, that is beyond what just happens on the field.

The powers that be in and of the game are playing a dangerous game by clinging to steroids and those who celebrate performance enhancing drugs. Either they bring back Canseco and Bonds with McGwire, or they should shun them ALL.But that would only further absolve the owners and executives who were aware and in fact used evidence of steroid use as reasons to acquire or drop players from their rosters. The owners in concert with the Commissioner knowingly were complicit in violating and enabling those who broke federal law, in trafficking and using illegal performance enhancing drugs. And for a long time stonewalled and adamantly refused to have players tested for it. Baseball would say they needed permission from the players, the players said their right to privacy was sacrosanct. More so than the common man or woman who has to submit to drug testing for a minimum wage job. Since when does an employer collude with the employee about them willfully violating federal anti-drug laws?

But the crazy part of this sordid episode of mlb is that they seem to be more willing and adamant to save Mark McGwire, than they do, the African American in Major League Baseball. Almost like they are looking to phase out one race, while replacing it with another they can celebrate to make a profit off of, and ironically and sadistically portray as evidence that inclusion of and in the game is improving.

The one bright spot in this continuing episode was the recent welcoming of openly gay former MLB player Billy Bean. But instead of placing him in a position of influence. They created a meaningless post, with the cynical “Ambassador for Inclusion”… supposedly helping those who were minorities or homosexual within the game. I have enormous respect for Mr. Bean, and his example and his testimony is harrowing… about the fear of being gay in a male sport, and punished because of it. To the point that by his own admission he was force to live a dual life, one true to himself, and the lie he maintained for others, so that his limited opportunity as a fringe player, would not be taken from him.

That example alone is a message to the players to not back down, and be who they really are, and not let baseball or what happens on the field define them, by others, and certainly not by themselves. But instead of being in a position in a level to do something about it. He is in a position to make speeches and ask clubs to be tolerant of those who may hint are gay, still too many have too much to lose, being defined by what they do off the field, rather than on it. Michael Sam just being the latest example.

Here again MLB misses the mark, in their aim to always “look busy (and show concern) and do… nothing.” (to threaten their profits).

Gay players will remain in the back of the bus for now. MLB is not ready for them. Even though former teammates of Bean, came to him, and shared their support for him, and shared that support would have existed if he was brave enough to come out while he was their teammate.

African American players will continue to make as much money as they can, while refusing to pick up the torch that Jackie, and Willie Mays, and Bob Gibson, left behind for them. And then walk away from the game wealthy, but wondering why they can’t get a seat back on the MLB bus, when they aren’t on the ballfield anymore. Instead they will be shown a token here, a token there, and trotted out for special events designed by major league baseball like the “All Century Team,” “Black Legends Team,” or “Latino Legends Team,” given a paycheck for their appearance, then sent home. With the point driven home to them, that is all they are useful for. And they have nothing to give of themselves, that baseball wants anymore.

From the back of the bus. To a seat in the plane. To the front seat of the plane. And then sent home on a plane. The method of transportation has changed. But the message remains the same.

No wonder gay players refuse to risk everything they have to speak out. They see where this ends, and are resolved to do anything they can to stay there as long as they can. For they know, when they leave the ballfield, they are not to be welcomed back.

That is not a legacy of “inclusion” it is a faustian bargain. Sell your soul for the opportunity to make money. And when we are done with you, go away… And we have masses of former ballplayers, or those who could still play, left… empty… with nothing of and for themselves. Who sacrificed everything for the game. Even their sense of self. Even the great Nolan Ryan at his Hall of Fame induction speech told of how “for 10 years, I could not adjust to the fact that I was not a MLB player…” And he was a Hall of Famer, celebrated and included in ownership at the minor league level, and as a club executive at the major league level. What about the fringe player who sacrificed everything, family, friendships, relationships, job opportunities, just to continue to be a infinitesimal part of the game at the lower wrungs of the professional level, in the minors. What legacy is he left with? Working minimum wage jobs in the off-season and after a long, tireless career in the anonymity of the minors, he just get’s to quit and be a manager at Wal Mart? And that is the best the gay ballplayer has to hope for?

Billy Bean said himself, that the game will not truly be considered “inclusive” until a mediocre gay player can stick in the big leagues, just as long as a mediocre straight player. This is a timeless comparison that was not uncommon in the pre- integration period. One in which, a one armed white man, Pete Gray, was for a time on the roster and played for the last place St.Louis Browns, a notion that one Negro League player later commented that: “The only thing a one armed white man can do as good as a two armed black man is scratch the side that itches…”

Baseball like most professional team sports still has a long way to go when it comes to civil rights and the right to be an individual in the game. It’s not just the rights of the ballplayers to be jerks like Barry Bonds that counts. it’s the rights for them to be who they are, gay or straight. Black or white. Illiterate like Joe Jackson, or a Harvard grad like former Indians reliever Frank Hermann (2005).

What matters is on the field. As Mario Cuomo said: “There is a cleanliness in the game… I win, you lose, If you get a hit, it goes up on the board.” That equality to make the most of your opportunity, no matter your race, religion, sexual orientation, or some other artificial barrier is what defines you in this game. Your performance. We may like or hate Barry Bonds. But all that matters is what he did on the field, and we have to acknowledge his contribution. We erase those of Pete Rose, but take money from casino’s in the form of advertising in Yankee Stadium of all places… making Rose an example of what happens when you don’t humble yourself before the game. While simultaneously demonstrating publicly the blatant hypocrisy of the game. Gay players have been forced to humble themselves for an entire century in the game. Most of them we will never truly know, or know of, except in the whispers of mlb offices. That is NOT what Jackie Robinson lived, fought and died for. He lived, fought and died for the RIGHT to play this game, make a living, make money for  the game, and be a MAN!

And now in the meaningless tokens created to make money off of the guilt of what was done to him. MLB is continuing to do the very same against the gay baseball player, while do nothing to save the African American baseball player, and keep them IN the game.

That is nothing to celebrate. It should be exposed for what it is, and the game should be shamed, to being better, and doing better for the baseball player. Black, white, asian, hispanic, straight, or gay, One hand like Jim Abbot, or one arm like Pete Gray. What you do on the field should define you. And everyone should be welcomed IN the game, welcomed to display their skill in the game, and welcomed to display their skill, when they no longer can play the game. So far, MLB has only mastered ONE of these aspects… Showing if nothing else, the game, STILL has a LONG way to go… before they truly are celebrated for what they choose to selfishly and cynically continue to celebrate, about themselves, among themselves…

A legacy is much more than a number. A true legacy is the measure of the man. In choosing to celebrate one, they are erasing the other…. and Jackie Robinson was already erased from the game in his life, when he retired. He doesn’t need to be erased in the game, again. Every year, let alone on the anniversary of the day, he fought them all and won the right to be included and a part of the game.

Jackie deserves better. He would ask us and baseball to be better people…

And if anyone deserves and has sacrificed more in the game and from the game, to have his will respected. That comes from no one except Jackie Robinson.

If you take nothing else from this day. Remember that…

For Jackie

The man.

THE… MAN!

The man of his time, and of our time.

As long as we choose to remember him.

Him, the whole person. His contribution….

It’s more than just a number…

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