'Bigger than baseball': Jackie Robinson Day has never felt more poignant

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball on April 15, 1947. Seventy-four years later, the Tigers players, coaches and staff members wore black t-shirts under their game jerseys in Oakland with the words Breaking Barriers emblazoned on the chest.

“I hope we can look at more than just baseball and see everything that he did...and see that things really haven’t changed that much."
-Niko Goodrum

And every player or coach who stepped on a field across the Major Leagues on Thursday wore No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson.

It happens every year. Yet somehow, in light of the events of the last year or more, in light of continued social injustice against people of color, the day somehow seemed more poignant this year.

“Some may feel like it’s another day,” said Tigers utility player Niko Goodrum. “It’s Jackie Robinson Day and then it’s gone. Whereas we live this reality every day. Part of it is Jackie Robinson led the way. He was a trail blazer for us to even be at the stadium or be at the hotel with the team. People go to baseball games and they think of it as an outlet for players to perform.

“But he started a lot of stuff. It’s bigger than baseball.”

Robinson was bigger than baseball. After he retired after the 1956 season, he became active in the beginnings of what would become the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. In one of his speeches, he talked of his bewilderment over seeing a White police officer subdue a Black woman by kneeling on her throat.

“It’s still going on,” Goodrum said. “Things haven’t changed. People look at us as athletes, but when we take these jerseys off, we go into the real world and nobody knows us. I get emotional about it because my family, my father, my brother, they don’t have the security I may have at the stadium. I go from the stadium to the hotel. They are out and about daily. There’s real things going on.

“I hope on Jackie Robinson Day we can look at more than just baseball and see everything that he did and all he had to go through and see that things really haven’t changed that much. We still have a ways to go.”

The Tigers met before the game in Houston on Wednesday and talked about the significance of Jackie Robinson Day. A video of was shown of bench coach George Lombard’s mother, Posy Lombard, who was a prominent White civil rights activist who was killed in an automobile accident when George was 10.

Manager AJ Hinch says he takes a picture of his No. 42 jersey every year to send to his two daughters to remind them exactly what Robinson’s legacy was and what it means still.

Players wear No. 42 for Jackie Robinson Day. Detroit Tigers vs Pittsburgh Pirates at Comerica Park in Detroit on April 16, 2019.

“Then there’s the reminder of what today’s world is like,” Hinch said. “It’s the other 364 days of the year that we need to honor, not only Jackie Robinson but all people of color and of all backgrounds. It’s not about honoring it one day and kind of marking the box and moving on to the next day.

“We need to be better as a world at understanding that it’s a year-round obligation as a human to have equality and social justice and make the world a better place regardless of race, religion or anything.”  

Players across the league Thursday either donated their game checks or an amount of their choice to the Players Alliance. Those donations last year funded a coast-to-coast bus tour where players in various cities help pass out baseball equipment, food, water, masks and more in cities and communities.

Mazara on IL; Jimenez returns 

The Tigers on Thursday placed outfielder Nomar Mazara on the 10-day injured list with a left abdominal strain. He grabbed at his stomach after a hard swing Wednesday night in the fourth inning.

To replace Mazara on the active roster, right-handed reliever Joe Jimenez was activated off the taxi squad. Jimenez, a former All-Star and closer, struggled last season and through spring training and was among the final cuts.

"It was a very emotional send down for him and for us," Hinch said. "So we let him clear the air a little bit and just let him get his work in (at the alternate site). But when he's pounding the strike zone and being free as a competitor, he can be effective for us.

"He's hungry. We brought him from the alt-site to the taxi squad specifically because we felt we cleared that hurdle emotionally for him."

Twitter: @cmccosky

Tigers at Athletics

►First pitch: 9:40 p.m.

►TV/Radio: BSDet-plus, 97.1

►Scouting report:

RHP Jose Urena, Tigers (0-2, 8.22): Efficiency has been an issue, specifically the lack of it. He needed 81 pitches to get through three innings in his first start, 85 to get through 4.2 in his last one, which was markedly better. He only allowed two runs and three hits, but the five walks kept him in the soup against the Indians.

RHP Frankie Montas, Athletics (1-1, 8.31): The Tigers have fared well against him over the years (2-2, 6.86 ERA in five games, four starts), but he can be nasty. He has a hard sinker and four-seam (95-96) and he gets a lot of chases with his slider and splitter.