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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Robinson's role in integration properly noted

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Before the tributes to Jackie Robinson are left for another year, we do well to take note of an action by the Hall of Fame a year ago that seems most appropriate in its own right and applicable to consideration of Hall members in the future.

"We have adjusted plaques over the years that were found to have factual errors, but very rarely do we change the plaque for subjective reasons," said Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark last June when the plaque that honors Jackson was redone. "We feel very strongly that rewriting Jackie Robinson's plaque is extremely important," said Clark.

Robinson's old plaque highlighted his on-field accomplishments such as his MVP award in 1949 and his fielding prowess, and listed his 1947-56 tenure with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

What obviously was not there was the monumental matter of his breaking the color barrier in the game in 1947.

Robinson's widow Rachel said at the 2008 ceremonies rededicating the plaque that her husband "wanted to be judged by the same standards that all the other Hall of Famers had been. He would understand now that we need to go beyond that toward social change, and he would want to be a part of that and be recognized. I don't think he would object to that. He would understand this is an evolution."

The new plaque now in the Hall has the added sentence: "Displayed tremendous courage and poise in 1947 when he integrated the modern Major Leagues in the face of intense adversity."

"Now the totality of Jackie's impact will be encapsulated on his plaque," Clark said. "The plaque is a career snapshot, and Jackie's snapshot was not complete without noting his cultural impact on our game. This is the right moment to place on Jackie's plaque his contribution to history not only as a Hall of Fame player but also as a civil rights pioneer."

"Jackie asked the writers to base his career on performance alone," Clark said. "He told them that when considering his candidacy for the Hall of Fame, they should only consider his playing ability, what his impact was on the playing field and please not consider anything but that. When his plaque was written in 1962, it reflected his wishes. It only recounted his magnificent career. "

"But as we all know," said Clark, "there is no one person more central or more important in the history of baseball for his pioneering ways. Today, his impact on our game is not fully defined if we did not mention his extreme courage in crossing baseball's color line."

Rachel Robinson spoke of the day her husband was inducted into the Hall, saying, "I vividly remember that joyful weekend. Jack was thrilled to be recognized by the Hall of Fame so early in his lifetime [at age 43]. A very important part of Jack's life has been acknowledged here today (at the rededication). As he said 46 years ago, those of us who are fortunate enough to receive such an honor must use it to help others. That was a great theme in his life."

"When young people now look at Jack's plaque, they will look beyond the statistics and embrace all Jack has meant and all that they can be," Rachel Robinson said. "We want it to be an inspiration, not just something to take pictures of. We want to give them a sense of direction.

The Hall was exactly right in rewriting the plaque and in doing so reaffirmed one of the considerations that is officially listed when considering those for the Hall: Character.

Over the years some have suggested that consideration for the Hall should only be about the numbers generated by players. They would take the character element out of consideration.

A good deal of that sentiment comes from those who want Pete Rose in the Hall even though he committed the cardinal sin of baseball in gambling on the games. Others promote the idea because of the future problems that will come when those of the steroid/performance enhancing drugs era (and that may not be over) are up for consideration.

Let's eliminate that "only numbers" argument right here.

If a player produces the greatest numbers in the history of the game and also commits murder, should he be in the Hall?

If you answer yes to that, run; do not walk, for immediate counseling.

The point is, when considered to the extreme, character at some point does enter into consideration. So we are back to reality.

It is not just about the numbers. There is line drawing, just as with everything else in life. Where the lines are drawn as to character affecting the entrance of a player into the Hall can and will be debated. However, to say character should be replaced for numbers only does not stand the rationality test.

That is yet another lesson to be learned from the career of Jackie Robinson, who continues to give to the game and society long after his days with us passed.

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