Statue unveiled during 70th anniversary of player breaking the color barrier
BY BILL SHAKIKIN AND
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS
LOS ANGELES – After all the lovely words had been spoken, the blue curtain raised, and the majestic statue of Jackie Robinson unveiled, his daughter reflected on a day she called powerful and inspirational.
“It was wonderful,” Sharon Robinson said, “to share that with Mom.”
Rachel Robinson is 94. She celebrated Saturday, April 15, by sharing stories with Vin Scully, 89, and greeting three of her husband’s former teammates: Don Newcombe, 90, Tom Lasorda, 89, and Sandy Koufax, 81.
(On April 15, 1947, Robinson debuted as the first African-American player in Major League Baseball, a league that had been segregated for more than 50 years, when he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers.)
Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer are deep into their autumn.
Rachel Robinson has not been in the best of health this year, and her children said they were pleased — but not surprised — that she rallied to take a place of honor during the statue dedication in the afternoon and receive a standing ovation from the Dodger Stadium crowd in the evening.
“We’ve now come from Pasadena to Brooklyn and back with the Dodgers,” said Robinson’s son, David.
“To see that cycle in one’s life, and to see that work honored and respected, and to see the elders there who were with her during those days, I think it touches great memories for her and has great significance and importance.”
Magic’s role model
Jackie Robinson grew up in Pasadena, and he met his wife at UCLA in 1941.
He retired before the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, but Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson said team Chairman Mark Walter promised Rachel five years ago that the new owners would install a Jackie Robinson statue.
“I’m more happy because of his statue than the two I’ve got,” Johnson said.
Johnson said Robinson and Muhammad Ali had paved the way for his success in sports and business. Baseball’s drive for diversity remains a work in progress, but Johnson smiled broadly as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts presented Rachel Robinson with a framed picture of the sculpture.
‘Smiling in heaven’
The sculptor, Branly Cadet, is African-American. Roberts is the first African-American manager in Dodgers history.
“You know that Jackie is just smiling in heaven right now,” Johnson said.
Roberts makes it a point to check in with each of his players every day, helping them navigate emotional hurdles where he can.
“Can you imagine what Jackie went through compared to the players of today? You know, sometimes we complain about the internet service,” Roberts said. “No, we can’t imagine what he went through.
“You talk to Sandy and hear some of the stories that are talked about, it just wasn’t even close. It doesn’t do it justice, you know, the strength of the man. Until you know Rachel and people who were around Jackie, you can’t gather the magnitude of what he went through.”
Museum in works
Rachel Robinson and the Boys of Summer will not be around forever to share those stories, but they will be told and retold at the Jackie Robinson Museum in New York, with groundbreaking ceremonies set this year.
“She’s really led the charge on the legacy building,” Sharon Robinson said. “Her last command performance is the museum.”
The Dodger Stadium statue, which includes such iconic Jackie Robinson quotes as “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” also will enable future generations to learn about Robinson when firsthand accounts are no longer available.
A lasting legacy
That legacy also will be continued by the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which has provided financial and mentorship support to 1,500 students over the last four decades. Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier has funded three of those scholarships.
“They are embracing the embodiment of Jackie Robinson and the courage that it takes to change society,” David Robinson said. “When all of us are looking down, we will have thousands of students that bear the Jackie Robinson name.”