Outfielder Garret Anderson said the all-inclusive tribute on Jackie Robinson Day was a great touch."Yeah, it is cool," Anderson said. "You hear every year, starting with the week before, people starting to talk about it. So you kind of have it in your mind already. It's cool that baseball recognizes it and recognizes what he stood for." Introduced in 2004, Jackie Robinson Day was created to honor the enduring impact of Jackie Robinson and his legacy as the first African-American player to break the Major League color barrier. Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Robinson breaking the Major League color barrier in 1997, Robinson's uniform No. 42 was retired throughout the Major Leagues.
Robinson's memory lives on today in initiatives such as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was founded by Rachel Robinson, his widow, in 1973 to provide education and leadership development opportunities for minority students with strong capabilities but limited financial resources. Additionally, the Breaking Barriers program utilizes baseball-themed activities to reinforce literacy skills, mathematics, science and social history in addition to addressing critical issues of character development, such as conflict resolution and self-esteem.Matthews said he hoped Robinson's legacy resonates not only with fans, but with all Major League players as well. "I think players, in general, have an idea," Matthews said. "Maybe not to the degree we should, because none of us will ever experience what Jackie went through playing his first season in a Dodgers uniform. None of us will ever truly know what that feels like. But I would hope that everyone has somewhat of an idea of the sacrifices the players before us made in order to be where we are now and to make what we make now. "The players that came before us -- Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby -- these guys literally blazed the trail for us and are part of the reason we have the opportunities that we have today." It is troubling, Anderson agreed, that the percentage of African-American players in the Major Leagues has declined from 8.4 percent last year to 8.2 percent in 2008, the lowest level in at least two decades. The percentage of African-American pitchers remains at 3 percent. "Baseball has probably lost a whole generation here," Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, told The Associated Press. "African-Americans just aren't playing it at this point. They're going to have to increase their efforts." Although Major League Baseball has established its Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program and Urban Youth Academy, Lapchick said it will take many years for those efforts to bear fruit. "That's a whole other conversation, all the reasons for that," Anderson said. "But it's much more of a global game today. More people from all over the world have more opportunities now. And that makes it harder to get here, no matter what race you are."
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.