06/25/08 5:03 PM EST
Robinson's HOF plaque rededicated
New inscription reflects impact on civil rights, as well as career
By Jack O'Connell / MLB.com
Robinson, the first African-American to play in the big leagues when he opened the 1947 season at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, was inducted into the Hall in 1962 alongside pitching legend Bob Feller. They were the first players elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America in their first year of eligibility since the original class of 1936: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.
"We have adjusted plaques over the years that were found to have factual errors, but very rarely do we change the plaque for subjective reasons," Hall of Fame board chairman Jane Forbes Clark said. "We feel very strongly that rewriting Jackie Robinson's plaque is extremely important."
The new plaque denotes the importance of the valor Robinson displayed in opening opportunities in the Major Leagues for minorities, as well as detailing the highlights of his 10-season career, which had been the sole subject of the previous plaque.
"Now the totality of Jackie's impact will be encapsulated on his plaque," Clark said. "The plaque is a career snapshot, and Jackie's snapshot was not complete without noting his cultural impact on our game. This is the right moment to place on Jackie's plaque his contribution to history not only as a Hall of Fame player, but also as a civil rights pioneer."
The new plaque reads:
Jack Roosevelt Robinson
Brooklyn, N.L., 1947-1956
A player of extraordinary ability renowned for his electrifying style of play. Over 10 seasons hit .311, scored more than 100 runs six times, named to six All-Star teams and led Brooklyn to six pennants and its only World Series title, in 1955. The 1947 Rookie of the Year and the 1949 N.L. MVP when he hit a league-best .342 with 37 steals. Led second basemen in double plays four times and stole home 19 times. Displayed tremendous courage and poise in 1947 when he integrated the modern major leagues in the face of intense adversity.
Just this past spring, the Hall transported the plaques of Robinson and Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the American League, to Memphis, Tenn., for the second annual Civil Rights Game between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Mets, so that fans unable to get to Cooperstown could get a look at them.
Robinson's old plaque read:
Jack Roosevelt Robinson
Brooklyn NL, 1947 to 1956
Leading N.L. batter in 1949. Holds fielding mark for second basemen playing in 150 or more games with .992. Led N.L. in stolen bases in 1947 and 1949. Most Valuable Player in 1949. Lifetime batting average .311. Joint record holder for most double plays by second baseman, 137 in 1951. Led second basemen in double plays 1949-50-51-52.
"Jackie asked the writers to base his career on performance alone," Clark said. "He told them that when considering his candidacy for the Hall of Fame they should only consider his playing ability, what his impact was on the playing field, and please not consider anything but that. When his plaque was written in 1962, it reflected his wishes. It only recounted his magnificent career. But, as we all know, there is no one person more central or more important in the history of baseball for his pioneering ways. Today, his impact on our game is not fully defined if it did. We did not mention his extreme courage in crossing baseball's color line."
"He wanted to be judged by the same standards that all the other Hall of Famers had been," Rachel Robinson said. "He would understand, now, that we need to go beyond that toward social change, and he would want to be a part of that and be recognized. I don't think he would object to that. He would understand this is an evolution."
Rachel Robinson recalled the day of her husband's election, July 23, 1962, and relayed that his acceptance speech was merely 2 minutes, 37 seconds.
"I vividly remember that joyful weekend," she said. "Jack was thrilled to be recognized by the Hall of Fame so early in his lifetime. [He was 43 at the time of his induction.] A very important part of Jack's life has been acknowledged here today. As he said 46 years ago, those of us who are fortunate enough to receive such an honor must use it to help others. That was a great theme in his life."
After the rededication, Rachel and Sharon Robinson participated in a one-hour discussion and question-and-answer session as part of the Hall's "Voices of the Game" series, presented by the Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown and XM Satellite Radio.
In 1973, one year after her husband's death, Rachel Robinson created the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide college scholarships, extensive mentoring and leadership training. Sharon Robinson, who serves as the Vice Chair of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, is also an educational consultant for Major League Baseball. Sharon has written several non-fiction books about her father and a novel.
The Jackie Robinson Foundation provides four-year college scholarships to minority students who demonstrate academic achievement, leadership capacity and financial need. More than 1,200 Foundation alumni are leaders in their professional fields and ambassadors of Jackie's legacy of community service. There are currently 259 JRF Scholars attending 93 colleges and universities in 30 states. Since the inception of the program, JRF Scholars have maintained a 97 percent graduation rate, more than twice the national average for minority students.
Hall president Jeff Idelson said the idea of a revised plaque was fostered by Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan, who is also the Hall's vice chairman. Morgan met with Rachel Robinson in January at the Foundation's New York City offices, and she agreed that the 35th anniversary of the Foundation was ideal timing.
"When young people now look at Jack's plaque, they will look beyond the statistics and embrace all that Jack has meant and all that they can be," Rachel Robinson said. "We want it to be an inspiration, not just something to take pictures of. We want to give them a sense of direction."
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.