IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Major League Baseball lockout may rob us of an important Jackie Robinson celebration

Rachel Robinson, who was with Jackie Robinson during an otherwise lonesome journey, turns 100 this year.
Image: A portrait of the Brooklyn Dodgers' Jackie Robinson in uniform, preparing to swing a baseball bat.
April 15 marks the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson smashing Major League Baseball's racist color line and took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers.Hulton Archive / Getty Images

UPDATE (3/10/2022 3:58 p.m. E.T.): Major League Baseball owners and players struck a tentative labor deal on Thursday, possibly saving a full 162-game season this spring and summer that may start on April 7.

We have lost the March 31 opening day of the 2022 Major League Baseball season, and that is a tragedy.

We have lost it to an owners’ lockout of the players, and that is nothing short of enraging. Thirty incredibly wealthy owners and their hand puppet, Commissioner Rob Manfred, have decided there will be no baseball until their pockets are further lined with profits.

Not only does the lockout guarantee that fans will see fewer games: After two seasons where opening day was canceled or complicated by Covid concerns, the lockout also represents a potential loss of young fans — including my 13-year-old son’s group of friends — who became born-again baseball lovers during the pandemic. What a waste.

Manfred behaves as one who detests baseball. He laughed and joked with reporters while announcing the cancellation of games.

There’s a new generation of enticing stars — including American League MVP Shohei Ohtani, who can hit the ball farther and throw a pitch faster than almost anyone on the planet, and second-generation charisma machines Vlad Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr. and Bo Bichette — with the potential to draw in young fans for the first time since Ken Griffey Jr. turned his hat backward during the Home Run Derby.

Manfred behaves as one who detests baseball. He laughed and joked with reporters while announcing the cancellation of games. This is the same Manfred who called the World Series trophy merely “a piece of metal” in his attempt to explain why he didn’t crack down on the Houston Astros for cheating. His contempt for the sport, its fans and our basic intelligence — for example, trying to convince us that owning a baseball team isn't that great of an investment while refusing to open up its books — is fueling the rage from players and fans.

There’s no guarantee that we’ll see MLB’s potential future Hall of Famers anytime soon, but even more concerning is that we won’t see the league’s celebration of its past. April 15 marks the 75th anniversary, the diamond anniversary, of Jack Roosevelt Robinson smashing MLB’s racist color line and took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

We would expect a celebration this year to be particularly beautiful and poignant not only because it celebrates 75 years but also because Jackie Robinson’s widow, the legendary Rachel Robinson, turns 100 in July. Rachel Robinson was with Jackie Robinson every step of the way during an otherwise lonesome journey.

Martin Luther King Jr. described Jackie Robinson as “a sit-inner before sit-ins, a Freedom Rider before Freedom Rides.” A celebration this year would present itself as an opportunity to not only celebrate Jackie Robinson’s pioneering status in the league and educate a new generation of fans, but it would also present us with the chance to tip our hats to Rachel Robinson and the Robinson family.

A fringe minority from the radical right has launched a sustained and largely successful attack against the very idea of talking about racism and the history of racism in this country. But even before that, far too many have told the Jackie Robinson story falsely: misrepresenting it as proof that individual achievement can overcome racism if someone is willing to “work hard enough.” But Jackie Robinson himself — who proudly marched and organized for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s — disputed that narrative with his every breath.

“All these guys who were saying that we've got it made through athletics, it's just not so,” he said in one speech. “You as an individual can make it, but I think we've got to concern ourselves with the masses of the people — not by what happens as an individual. So I merely tell these youngsters when I go out: Certainly I've had opportunities that they haven't had, but because I've had these opportunities doesn't mean that I've forgotten.”

I’m not arguing that Manfred and team owners are using this lockout to cancel games and avoid the opportunity to celebrate Jackie Robinson. This lockout is clearly first and foremost about greed. But I am saying that Manfred and baseball’s franchise owners treat their own history the way a baby treats a diaper.

I’m arguing that they hate the game, so why would they respect the most precious parts of its past? They need to call off the lockout as soon as possible. If they do, then we still have the chance to celebrate Jackie and Rachel Robinson and everything baseball can be. If they do not, they will instead be revealing what baseball actually is: an ugly reflection of corporate greed, anti-union animus and a disrespect of the Robinson name little different than the disrespect the Robinson family experienced when they began walking the perilous road toward making baseball — and this country — a better place for all.