Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Zen Dayley: You can't tell who cares, even with a program

Congratulations to Bud Selig for turning something heartfelt and sentimental into, well, a Remembrance Day ceremony back in high school:
"By request of Commissioner Bud Selig, as Major League Baseball celebrates the 62nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking its color barrier on Wednesday, all big league players and uniformed personnel have been asked to wear the late Hall of Famer's famous No. 42 on the field when the 30 teams celebrate the occasion.

" 'April 15, 1947, is a day that resonates with history throughout Major League Baseball,' Selig said. "With all Major League players, coaches and umpires wearing Jackie's No. 42, we hope to demonstrate the magnitude of his impact on the game of baseball. Major League Baseball will never forget the contributions that Jackie made both on and off the field." — MLB.com (emphasis mine)
How is something meaningful if everyone is asked to do it? A fan watching baseball on April 15 has the right to know who put on No. 42 out of respect for Jackie and Rachel Robinson and who's just going along to get along.

MLB should always take time April 15 to recognize the Robinsons, needless to say. They're also backing this up by contributing to a scholarship foundation.

It's also easy to pile on Bud Selig, who is probably doing the best job of any commissioner out of the four ball-and-stick leagues, but the gesture loses meaning when people just adhere blindly without consideration.

There were others who pushed for greater diversity in baseball, such as Larry Doby, the first black star in the American League, and Roberto Clemente, the first Latino star. (Did you know that Clemente's early baseball cards listed him as "Bobby Clemente," even though he never asked to be called by that name?)

The Remembrance Day comparison might be a bit much (although, as a side point, there was always cognitive dissonance between being expected to wear a poppy on and around Nov. 11 while not being expected to learn anything about Canada's military history, which is why I'm part of a generation which thinks Vimy Ridge is a wine). Maybe it's more like the Seinfeld when Kramer gets beat up for declining to wear an AIDS ribbon.

Either way, it would be a lot cooler if wearing Robinson's number on April 15 was limited to a few players per team. Recommending it defeats the purpose, since it just reinforces the same jock culture that leads the New York Yankees to stand behind Alex Rodriguez without giving a second's thought to what he's done to the sport's reputation.

It also gets in the way of really trying to understand, as someone who wasn't there, the full measure of Jackie Robinson. He wasn't perfect. For pity's sake, he was complicit with the Paul Robeson persecution that the great actor Paul Robeson endured during the 1950s and '60s. Regardless, he did manage to change the world.

As a general point, it is problematic when the impression is given that you have to be superhuman to change the world. It leaves everyone else with a permanent sense of insecurity and inadequacy. It's better to know that transcendent figures did have their human flaws; that's why it's great to know President Obama smokes.

(This is written with the full awareness Canada lost a soldier, Trooper Karine Blais, on Monday in Afghanistan. Pointing out that people are often superficial about contemplating the fallen doesn't dishonour it.)

Bud Selig Interprets The Term 'Uniform' A Little Too Literally (Walk-Off Walk)

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