60 Years Later: What Would Jackie Think?

Baseball has taken some steps in the right direction. Approximately 16 percent of clubs' senior administrators and 24 percent of senior administrators at MLB headquarters are people of color, according to the diversity institute's 2005 study. As of Opening Day 2007, there were five field managers of color, but just two minority general managers.

Since 1991, MLB's RBI program claims to have subsidized urban youth-baseball leagues serving 120,000 players in 200 cities. The program has also produced major leaguers Carl Crawford, Coco Crisp, Jimmy Rollins and Dontrelle Willis. But the $16 million it's spent on RBI over 16 years is unimpressive in the context of modern baseball economics. In addition, the program's effectiveness has varied from city to city, acknowledges Young. "But what it's done everywhere is raise awareness," says this former major league scout. "Now if kids don't want to play it's their choice, but they have that opportunity."

MLB undertook another new initiative in 2006, opening an "urban youth baseball academy" in Compton, Calif. But the $10 million spent on the facility to produce more black players pales besides the $50 million to $60 million MLB clubs spend each year on scouting and player development in Latin America. Virtually every team has an "academy" in the Dominican Republic, the richest source of Hispanic players (81 of them in the majors last year).

William Forrester Jr., whose minority-oriented Richmond, Va., youth league has received all of $8,000 from RBI, and who has failed in efforts to get MLB to aid struggling HBCU baseball programs, believes it's pretty simple. Baseball's economics trump baseball's pieties. Bottom line: It's much cheaper to develop talent offshore, independent of the amateur draft.

"They're just taking the big-business approach of getting the most bang for their buck and making more money," says Forrester, who finds it ironic that black players and fans deserted the Negro Leagues for MLB -- only to have MLB eventually desert them. "If I were in Jackie's shoes, I would wonder if I had been bamboozled."

Would he?

"I think Jackie would say there has been some progress. I think Jackie would also say it hasn't been enough." -- Former NL president Bill White

Forrester expresses the dimmest view Robinson might take of MLB 2007, but not necessarily No. 42's definitive approach. There are developments of which he'd greatly approve, beginning with the average player salary of $2.94 million. He and Branch Rickey were joined at the hip by history in 1947, but jousted each year thereafter over salary. Robinson believed he, and other major league players, were underpaid and he chafed at their lack of bargaining power. In 1970, he testified on behalf of Curt Flood in the outfielder's landmark anti-trust suit challenging MLB's reserve clause. "Jackie would be very pleased with free agency and all the money players are making," Tygiel says.

And just as Robinson took a broad view of his role in the world after his baseball career, he would also take a broader view of today's sports world.

"He would be thrilled at what's happened in a league like the NBA," says Pat Williams, an executive with the Orlando Magic and author of a book on lessons to be learned from Robinson. "There are so many GMs and coaches of color that you can truly say it's no longer about black and white; it's about wins and losses."

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