BY RICH HAMMOND
LOS ANGELES – Jackie Robinson wanted baseball to hire its first African-American manager. He said so directly at the 1972 World Series, in his final public appearance nine days before his death.
Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947 and paved the path for many of those who honored him Saturday at Dodger Stadium, at the unveiling of a Robinson statue. Few people can trace a more direct path to Robinson’s legacy than Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
‘Lot of parallels’
Roberts followed Robinson onto the UCLA baseball field, which by that point had been named Jackie Robinson Stadium. Roberts followed Robinson into a Dodger uniform, first as a player and then, last year, as the first manager of color in franchise history.
“There are a lot of parallels,” Roberts said before the April 15 game against Arizona, “but far from any type of comparison. But to do some of the things he did, for me to think about it in that scope, it’s kind of crazy.”
Robinson became the first person honored with a statue outside 55-year-old Dodger Stadium. On the 70th anniversary of Robinson’s first game, the Dodgers unveiled the statue during an invitation-only ceremony that included Robinson’s widow, 94-year-old Rachel, two of their children, Dodger ownership and team legends such as Sandy Koufax, Tommy Lasorda, Don Newcombe and Vin Scully.
The 77-inch-tall bronze statue, constructed by Oakland sculptor Branly Cadet, displays Robinson sliding into home plate and includes three of his best-known quotes engraved into the base.
Roberts, born four days after the Dodgers retired Robinson’s number in 1972, presented Robinson family members with framed pictures of the statue. They shared the stage with (unrelated) Frank Robinson, who in 1975 became baseball’s first African-American manager.
Roberts said he felt awed to wear Robinson’s No. 42 last Saturday — as players and coaches did league-wide.