A new movie on the life of Jackie Robinson premieres Friday. It has support from people in high places.
“We think that everybody in this country needs to watch this movie,” advises First Lady Michelle Obama on the movie 42 after she and her husband, President Barack Obama viewed a private screening last week at the White House.
The first of several Minnesota Twins “Diversity Days” will be Monday April 15, the day Major League Baseball (MLB) annually honors Robinson’s major league debut in 1947. “It was an important and powerful moment in baseball when Jackie Robinson broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers,” recalls Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
Is Minnesota practicing backwards diversity?
Sadly, it wasn’t an April Fools’ joke that the Twins, at their April 1 season opener this year, looked more like a team back in Robinson’s day with a total of four players of color, including the team’s only American Black player — rookie outfielder Aaron Hicks. Two Black players were traded away, and the team’s only Black coach was let go during the off-season.
A total of 241 players born outside the USA — many from Latin countries like the Dominican Republic (89), Venezuela (63), Cuba (15), Mexico (14) and Puerto Rico (13) — are on MLB rosters this season.
“Jackie wanted to see a diverse mixture of people participating in the sport through all levels,” wrote Richard Lapchick on his 2012 MLB Racial and Gender Report Card. However, how concerned would Robinson be with today’s single-digit percentage of American-born Black players?
Although this year’s MLB racial report card isn’t out yet, by simply looking at the photos in the team’s official yearbook we can confirm that there are no off-field diversity changes with the Twins. As of last year, there are zero Blacks in executive management and only one Black season sales director among the other 122 front-office positions.
“We want to be diverse,” claims Twins CEO Jim Pohlad. “The commissioner has been really emphatic about diversity…and he encourages the clubs to do it, too. We are definitely committed to it.”
It’s really hard to keep hearing these obligatory words from team officials. That’s why I can only see these Twins ‘diversity days’ — complete with fans receiving diversity T-shirts — as for show purposes only.
Yet each year baseball uses Jackie Robinson as a diversity reference point.
“We’ve spent a lot of time talking about it,” said Selig last summer during a Twin Cities visit. “I spent a lot of time talking to a lot of people, and in 50 years have spent hundreds of hours talking about this.”
When pressed about off-field diversity, Stelig admitted, “We have a lot of diversity — we need to do better. I always say that. I feel good about where we are, and we have come a long way from where we were 20 years ago. Baseball is a metaphor for life, and in life when something we don’t like, it just doesn’t change over night.”
Or seemingly decades. Or even half-centuries, for that matter.
Former Twins star Torii Hunter, now in his first season in Detroit, told me last week that he is contemplating pursuing a front-office career once his on-field career concludes. “I want to come back and be a GM and get in the front office and work my way up. I want to help change the game and pick my own players and my own team,” said the 14-year veteran outfielder.
2013 MLB season prospectus
Mark Gray, a former XM Radio baseball host, gave his predictions about the now-underway MLB season a couple of weeks ago when I contacted him about the Tubby Smith matter.
“Baseball to me this year is like the NCAA tournament — you can pick about seven or eight teams, and all of them have a legitimate shot at winning,” including Washington, Philadelphia and Baltimore, he pointed out. 2012 American League champs Detroit “still have Prince [Fielder] and [Justin] Verlander, and they are still going to be great…but I probably will go with San Francisco and the [L.A.] Angels” to meet in this year’s World Series, he predicted. “And I didn’t mention the Yankees. The [Derek] Jeter ankle thing is big — that injury is big and may signal his days are numbered. They got some things to fix.”
Finally, Gray said the season’s most interesting storyline to watch is the performance lab investigation. “We got to watch that story play out, because it seems like baseball is on a mission to get [Milwaukee’s] Ryan Braun like the doping agency was out to get the cyclist Lance Armstrong. If they are able to prove that he was involved in some funky stuff from a shady laboratory, that’s a game changer in the National League.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.