One Ex­tra­or­di­nary Robin­son Re­mem­bers An­other

The Washington Post Sunday - - On The Air Sunday Morning -

Jackie Robin­son gave his life for some­thing great. He chose to bear the daily, bloody trial of stand­ing up to bean­balls and cleats launched into his shins, chest, and chin, and the race-bait­ing taunts rain­ing down from the stands, along with trash, toma­toes, rocks, wa­ter­melon slices and Sambo dolls. And then he per­formed with elo­quent achieve­ment and su­perla­tive poise.”

Scott Si­mon, A num­ber of play­ers, man­agers and coaches will wear 42 on their backs to­day to honor Jackie Robin­son on the 60th an­niver­sary of his in­te­grat­ing Ma­jor League Base­ball as a Brook­lyn Dodger.

To note the oc­ca­sion, the Jackie Robin­son So­ci­ety of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity — a group formed in 1999 to pro­mote dis­cus­sion and com­mu­nity ser­vice in his name — hosted a pro­gram Thurs­day to honor Robin­son, who died in 1972. Hall of Famer and for­mer Na­tion­als man­ager Frank Robin­son also was hon­ored.

“Jackie Robin­son had great courage,” said au­thor Roger Kahn, the key­note speaker.

“I was 11 when Jackie came up,” Robin­son said. “I was old enough to un­der­stand that what he’d done had pro­vided me the op­por­tu­nity to re­al­ize my dream and play in the ma­jor leagues if I was good enough.”

Frank Robin­son proved bet­ter than just “good enough,” hit­ting 586 home runs and bat­ting .294 in a play­ing ca­reer that spanned 21 sea­sons, most of them in Cincin­nati and Bal­ti­more. He was the only player to win MVP awards in both leagues, then be­came the first African Amer­i­can man­ager in the ma­jors, first pi­lot­ing Cleve­land in 1975 fol­lowed by stints in San Fran­cisco, Bal­ti­more and Mon­treal-Wash­ing­ton. He’s now work­ing in the Ma­jor League Base­ball com­mis­sioner’s of­fice.

Call it co­in­ci­den­tal or ironic, but the cel­e­bra­tion of Jackie Robin­son is oc­cur­ring the same week as the furor cre­ated by ra­dio star Don Imus and his dis­parag­ing re­marks about the Rut­gers women’s bas­ket­ball team, which led to his sub­se­quent dis­missal by CBS Ra­dio and MSNBC. This wasn’t the first time Imus had sped through the red light of de­cency, a fact not lost on Frank Robin­son, whose base­ball ca­reer be­gan in the mi­nors of the seg­re­gated South of the 1950s.

“It was a rude awak­en­ing,” Robin­son re­called. “Es­pe­cially when your own fans would taunt you.

Imus’s “com­ments hurt me and they’ll be linked to those women for the rest of their lives,” Robin­son added. “But I was proud of how they han­dled them­selves by not sink­ing to his level. Just when we think things are all right, some­thing like this oc­curs to show all is not per­fect. Peo­ple still say and do crazy things.”

Jackie Robin­son would have ad­mired the class and dig­nity shown by the Rut­gers bas­ket­ball play­ers and their coach, C. Vi­vian Stringer, in the af­ter­math of Imus’s in­sults. But he would not like the fact African Amer­i­cans make up only 8.4 per­cent of ma­jor lea­guers, com­pared with 29.4 per­cent His­pan­ics, 2.4 per­cent Asians and about 60 per­cent whites. Thirty years ago, African Amer­i­cans ac­counted for nearly 30 per­cent of ma­jor lea­guers.

MLB knows it must gen­er­ate more in­ter­est in the game among African Amer­i­can young­sters, par­tic­u­larly in the cities. “When I was grow­ing up in Oak­land, we played from sun­rise to sun­set,” Frank Robin­son re­called. “And we played on con­crete. It’s what you did.”

Robin­son no longer plays on con­crete. He’s 71, but looks younger and bet­ter than he did walk­ing out of RFK Sta­dium a fi­nal time at the end of last sea­son, when he was dis­missed af­ter two sea­sons as Nats man­ager. Some­one noted Wash­ing­ton’s one vic­tory in its first nine games of 2007, prompt­ing Robin­son to crack: “That’s not so bad. I lost our first 21 man­ag­ing the Ori­oles in 1988.”

Sec­ond Thoughts

K In light of the re­ac­tion to Imus’s com­ment on the Rut­gers women’s bas­ket­ball team, per­haps sports-talk ra­dio hosts who de­light in den­i­grat­ing women’s sports might re­con­sider their approach. K Nats Pres­i­dent Stan Kas­ten’s strat­egy — to build the team’s front of­fice and scout­ing staff and re­stock a de­pleted farm sys­tem at the ex­pense of the 2007 sea­son — is off to a bad start. Their cur­rent pay­roll of about $35 mil­lion, down about $30 mil­lion from 2006, is too fru­gal.

De­spite Kas­ten’s op­ti­mism for next year, when the new ball­park opens in South­east, the po­ten­tial of more than 100 losses this sea­son will dampen any fan’s en­thu­si­asm — even one who spent 33 years hop­ing for a team. The club cost the Lerner fam­ily $450 mil­lion, leav­ing one to ask, “Why go econ­omy now, in just the third sea­son af­ter re­lo­cat­ing to Wash­ing­ton?” The fan base here still needs build­ing. K Can’t the ma­ture and wise among us come up with a so­lu­tion that sat­is­fies all par­ties as 17-year-old Par­a­lympic wheel­chair racer Tatyana McFad­den seeks to com­pete for Atholton High School’s track and field team? Who among the lawyers, self-im­por­tant sports czars of Mary­land, stu­dents, coaches and par­ents is go­ing to step up and be a men­sch? K The Wiz­ards are hav­ing trou­ble win­ning tight games with­out the in­jured Gil­bert Are­nas and Caron But­ler. But they’re close and have spunk. I like spunk. K The 2007 Red­skins sched­ule is out, and for those of you who scoff at my pick­ing the home team to lose only one or two games a year, I’ll be mak­ing my picks af­ter the draft. Ac­tu­ally, I’m wait­ing to see if the Red­skins’ cagey front of­fice lands Louisiana State quar­ter­back JaMar­cus Rus­sell, or Ge­or­gia Tech wide re­ceiver Calvin John­son, or Bears line­backer Lance Briggs in ex­change for what­ever. K “Fri­day Night Lights” Up­date: The Dil­lon Pan­thers came from 26-0 down at half­time to de­feat the Mus­tangs and win the Texas high school foot­ball cham­pi­onship on the fi­nal play of the game at Texas Sta­dium. It was a neat, Boise State-like hook-and-lad­der touch­down pass from Sara­cen to Rig­gins to Smash. The fi­nal episode of the sea­son left open the ques­tion of whether or not this ter­rific TV show will be re­newed and if Coach Eric Tay­lor will leave Dil­lon to join the coach­ing staff of the state univer­sity in Austin?

I posed the ques­tion to Bill McGre­gor, head coach of peren­nial pow­er­house DeMatha Catholic High School in Hy­attsville. “I think Coach Tay­lor will stay at Dil­lon,” McGre­gor said. “He has too many at­tach­ments to leave. I’d stay; I en­joy coach­ing at this level.”

Good Coun­sel’s Bob Mil­loy, a highly suc­cess­ful vet­eran of 37 years as a head foot­ball coach in the area, on Tay­lor: “I think he’ll take the job in Austin. But I’d stay be­cause I love coach­ing high school foot­ball and no­body ever of­fered me a col­lege job. Be­sides, at 63, I’m on the 17th fair­way, if you know what I mean.” Have a com­ment or ques­tion on the Na­tion­als’ plan for the fu­ture? Reach me at talk­back@wash­


For­mer Nats man­ager Frank Robin­son, above, said Jackie Robin­son “pro­vided me the op­por­tu­nity to re­al­ize my dream and play in the ma­jor leagues if I was good enough.”

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