Jackie Robinson’s legacy looms over All-Star Game in LA

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LOS ANGELES — The legacy of Jackie Robinson showed in Major League Baseball’s draft, with four Black players among the first five selected for the first time in history.

Six of the first 18 players chosen as well as nine players taken in the first round are Black. All of them are alumni of MLB’s diversity development programs.

That’s considered progress in a sport that has a smaller percentage of Black players now than any year since the early 1990s.

“It’s nice to see athletes sticking around after the age of about 12 or 13 continuing to play baseball because we need more of them,” former All-Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins said.

But Robinson likely would still not be satisfied.

On the 25th anniversary of Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he criticized MLB for not yet hiring a Black manager or helping Black players establish careers after their playing days ended. Robinson’s comments at the 1972 World Series came in his last public appearance before his death days later at age 53.

“Here we are now, 50 years since, we have two Black managers,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, citing Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros.

“Naturally, he would be disappointed because he wouldn’t see the things that he and others had fought so diligently for, to create opportunities,” Kendrick said of Robinson. “We’re still not really seeing those opportunities.”

Kendrick joined former All-Stars Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Rollins and Edwin Jackson, along with Seattle Mariners announcer Dave Sims, to discuss Robinson’s life and impact at Playball Park inside the Los Angeles Convention Center as part of All-Star festivities.

A standing-room only crowd listened intently while surrounded by thumping music, blaring announcers and fans testing their batting and fielding skills.

“We lose a lot of athletes to the other sports because we’re not promoted,” Rollins said, singling out football and basketball. “One thing we’ve always felt as Black athletes we say, `You always have to be the starter. You’re not going to find us on the bench.”‘

A May report by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports said 38% of all MLB players on opening day this season were players of color, an 0.4% increase over a year ago. About 28.5% of players were Hispanic or Latino, 7.2% were Black and 1.9% were Asian.

Robinson’s presence will loom large over Tuesday’s All-Star game at Dodger Stadium, where the Hall of Famer is honored with a statue.

His legacy will be included in the pregame ceremonies. His widow, Rachel, turns 100 that day and her birthday will be recognized during the game. The Jackie Robinson Foundation will receive a check for over $800,000 from sales of the Sony video game “MLB The Show.”

“The Jackie Legacy” airs Wednesday on MLB Network featuring interviews with former All-Star Bo Jackson, former President Bill Clinton, filmmaker Spike Lee and former commissioner Bud Selig discussing Robinson’s impact on baseball, civil rights and society.

Kendrick credited Rachel Robinson for her ability to survive the public harassment of the era.

“While Jackie may have never publicly broke down, you can almost rest assured that was the shoulder that he cried on,” he said. “Just the sheer strength that she demonstrated sitting in that stadium listening to all these folks say these nasty things about her husband, and he was nothing like what they wanted him to be portrayed as, and yet she found the will to be able to sit and endure all of that as well.”

Born in Georgia and raised in Pasadena, California, Robinson became the first Black to play in the majors when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers 75 years ago, ending the racial segregation in pro baseball that had kept Black players in the Negro Leagues dating to the 1880s.

During his 10-year career, Robinson was the target of rough play by opposing teams, racist obscenities, hate mail and death threats. He ultimately silenced critics with his play and his belief in nonviolence.

“Coming up from a different environment, I used to be mad at Jackie, like why didn’t he fight back? I would’ve done something,” said Rollins, who grew up in a Black neighborhood in Oakland, California. “But as I got older, I understood 21 million people he was carrying on his back and he could not fail. They waited for one reason and he never gave it to them. Because of that, I’m thankful we’re here.”

Dawson recalled receiving hate mail during his years with the Chicago Cubs from 1987-92.

“Some of the things that were said you just shake your head,” he said.

If Robinson was alive today, Raines said he’d ask him, “How do you take that on and deal with it?”

Jackson added, “He absorbed everybody’s pain. He was the shield for the bomb and he took that bomb for us to be able to play today.”

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.