ESPN.com, in an uncredited editorial published today and pegged to Black History Month, calls for MLB to create a new award in honor of Jackie Robinson. This prize would be bestowed upon the player “who exemplifies the best of Robinson’s attributes: Courage. Dignity. Excellence. Respect. Sportsmanship. Sacrifice.” (The Rookie of the Year currrently receives the Jackie Robinson Trophy.) The winner would then have the honor of wearing Robinson’s universally retired number 42 for the following season.
This all sounds fine to us, but let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture here: beyond cosmetic gestures, MLB needs to get serious about the plummeting number of African Americans playing professional baseball (27 percent of the league in 1975; 10.5 percent on opening day 2003, according to Northeastern University’s Center for Sport in Society). This year will be even worse. That’s something Jackie Robinson would certainly be concerned about, and a new award–however admirable it may be–isn’t going to fix the problem.