04/15/07 3:25 PM ET
Griffey first in line to wear No. 42
Reds outfielder embraces legacy of Jackie Robinson
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
Robinson's memory lives on today in initiatives such as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was founded by Rachel Robinson in 1973 to provide education and leadership development opportunities for minority students with strong capabilities but limited financial resources. He is also the inspiration for Breaking Barriers, which utilizes baseball-themed activities to reinforce literacy skills, mathematics, science and social history while addressing critical issues of character development such as conflict resolution and self-esteem."I think it's important for baseball to take the lead on [celebrating Robinson], because Jackie Robinson is one of our own," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "I think it's a great reminder to our entire country." Narron also has a unique perspective on the day. His uncle, Sam, played for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s and '40s when Branch Rickey ran the club. As a Dodgers executive, Rickey later signed Robinson to a Minor League contract on Aug. 28, 1945. After he left St. Louis, Sam Narron worked for Rickey in the Dodgers and Pirates organizations. Jerry Narron grew up in North Carolina and heard plenty about Rickey. "Mr. Rickey was a solid person, a man of character," Narron said. "Our entire country owes Branch Rickey a great deal of gratitude. I believe he's often overlooked. It took somebody willing to give Jackie Robinson a chance. At that time, there was wasn't a whole lot of people willing to do it." Of course, others eventually followed Robinson out of the Negro Leagues and into the Majors as baseball integrated. Many of today's players aren't aware of the racism and other issues black players endured in the early years. Griffey had the advantage of being connected with former Reds through his father, Ken Griffey Sr. "I grew up a little differently," Griffey said. "I also had Joe Black, Brooks Lawrence, Chuck Harmon Sr. -- all those guys were at my house and just told me what it was like to play in the '40s and '50s and '50s and '60s, the barnstorming and all that." With only eight percent of Major Leaguers being African American, there is concern that Robinson's legacy could be diminished by time and a lack of role models. Efforts have been made to bring youth baseball to inner city children but it's often an uphill battle. "The commercials are not geared for kids having fun in baseball," Griffey said. "Football and basketball, they do it. Even at my house, you see someone dunk, stick their tongue out, run down the court and do a shimmy. You see a little Superman fly after he dunks. You see a guy in the end zone give a little quick dance. "[In] baseball, [it's] All-Star Game. Get your tickets. That's all it is. We just have to somehow do a better job of reaching out to everybody. It's not just black kids we're losing. We're losing everybody. Nobody wants to play baseball. Growing up, [baseball] was it. We played baseball until it snowed. When spring started, it was back to baseball, even if we played other sports. Saturday after a football game, if it was still warm out, we went out and played baseball."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.