When the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants take the field Friday night for Game 3 of the World Series, it is unlikely that viewers will be thinking of Jackie Robinson or Ferguson, Missouri. Yet, Ferguson is a little over a three and half-hours drive from Kansas City, where Jackie Robinson began his baseball career; he started in the Negro Leagues as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs. October 24, 2014 marks the 42nd anniversary of Robinson’s death — significant because that is the number that Robinson wore. It is a number that has been universally retired throughout baseball in tribute to the way he helped to transform the game and the nation.
Just nine days before his death, on October 15, 1972, Robinson himself attended a World Series game that included a ceremony to honor the then 25th Anniversary of his historic accomplishment. In what proved to be his final public engagement, Robinson pressed baseball officials to do more to foster integration: “I’d like to live to see a black manager,” he noted in his televised remarks, “I’d like to live to see the day when there’s a black man coaching at third base.”
Today some of those dreams have been realized, even as Black representation in baseball as a whole continues to plummet. According to a 2014 report, the percentage of black players has dropped to its lowest number since integration, standing at 8.3% down from 26% in 1979. Last month, one of those African Americans, Seattle Mariners Manager Lloyd McClendon, linked the decline in black participation with fewer opportunities for African Americans to pick up the game in financially strapped and racially stratified inner cities. Clearly as baseball legend Hank Aaron observed in May of 2013, “Jackie certainly would be disappointed in the way things are today.