04/12/08 12:20 AM ET
Robinson's historic journey explored
Cooperstown, KC museum education programs tell story
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
Neither of them, however, houses sections that solely shine bright lights on Robinson, the man who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947.
In fact, the museum in Kansas City makes its recognition of Robinson secondary to telling broader stories about where Robinson fit into the history of "black baseball," said Bob Kendrick, marketing director of the museum.
"You'd be shocked at the number of people who come in here who didn't know Jackie's career started in the Negro Leagues," Kendrick said.
But everybody who follows the game closely knows Robinson played in the Majors, where his talent and trailblazing spirit got him inducted into Cooperstown.
In its exhibition, the Hall of Fame honors Robinson as a pioneer and for his courage, and it tries to weave his historical significance into a mosaic built around a 10-year career with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
"His artifacts are truly chronological to show that his impact on the game is not limited in what he did in becoming the first, but it's because of his accomplishments on the field," said Brad Horn, director of communications for the Hall.
His representation in Cooperstown is spaced out in a couple of locations, Horn said. The Hall, which prides itself on being a learning institution, chronicles Robinson's historic rise from the Negro Leagues through the Minor Leagues and onto the Majors.
In the "Pride and Passion -- The African-American Baseball Experience" on the second floor, Robinson has a substantial presence, because the exhibition speaks to the barriers Robinson and other black ballplayers had to leap in finding acceptance in a segregated game.
He was part, as author and Negro Leagues historian Jules Tygiel has described it, of a "great experiment." Robinson ushered in integration, which came at the expense of "black baseball."
For his success sped the demise of the Negro Leagues, Kendrick said. It opened floodgates that allowed Negro League stars to stream into the Majors.
What remained of black baseball was a shell of a league, one that disappeared over the next decade.
Yet the league left behind a rich history, which the museum in Kansas City spotlights. Through words, pictures, art and artifacts, it recounts that history from start to end.
"We put our emphasis on introducing people to this story -- this wonderful story about American history -- that nobody knows much about," Kendrick said. "We introduce you to some great ballplayers along the journey.
"We're going to continue to be able to parallel the journey with what was happening in society. That's kind of how we see it. "
Horn said Cooperstown might be a bit more about the great ballplayers than their journey. But in Robinson's case, the journey was as central to the story being told, historically, as the greatness was, he said.
That journey shows itself in the "Timeline" that the Hall has displayed in its gallery, and baseball memorabilia from Robinson's career are scattered throughout the museum.
Robinson's legacy is also a major component in the Hall of Fame's successful education program, which services thousands of school children each year through on-site and online field trips.
Before You Can Say Jackie Robinson is one of 16 thematic modules in the program, and teaches children about Robinson's integration of baseball in 1947 and the Civil Rights Movement. The module is among the most requested by school groups in both distance and on-site learning, and students gain appreciation of the legacy Jackie left, not only as a civil rights pioneer, but as an exceptional baseball talent year-round.
On display now are his induction plaque, which was recently transported to Memphis, Tenn., for Major League Baseball's annual Civil Rights Game, his '55 Dodgers jacket, cap and socks, his bat and glove and his bat from the '55 World Series, which the Dodgers won.
In storage, the Hall has a jersey with Robinson's No. 42 on it, his '54 All-Star Game silver presentation tray, his Montreal Royals cap and Robinson autographed baseballs.
"When you run across Jackie's artifacts in the Timeline and in the museum, you really stop and look at the context in which those items are displayed," Horn said.
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.