My fellow Blogcritics scribe Casey Michel put it rather eloquently about how baseball is proudly slow to accept change, but when it does, it's almost always for the better.
In the case of Jackie Robinson Day (April 15), the celebrated change was the destruction of institutionalized racism. As the elementary school history blue box goes, Robinson broke baseball's color barrier by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and soon thereafter more black players began trickling into the league.
Robinson won the National League Rookie of the Year in 1947 and the MVP two years later. He was a career .311 hitter, reached base 40.9 percent of the time, and was legendary for stealing home (he is in the top ten all-time in this category too). On numbers alone he is a Hall of Fame player. And that's before doing it in the face of epithets and bigots. It's all why nobody else (after Mariano Rivera retires) will ever wear his jersey number again except on Jackie Robinson Day.
But it makes me wonder. What if he was an ineffective player — would it have set back the cause? Suppose he was instead a .211 hitter who lasted three seasons in the majors before retiring and/or being cut. Back then he was not a certainty to take the world by storm — then again, nothing is, but there were bigger and more legendary players in the Negro Leagues. He was simply the one who took advantage of the opportunity. And this is how we remember him. We won't really remember any of his vital numbers except 42.
The baseball simulation game Baseball Mogul has a feature where you can enter a year into a league option that says "Women Enter Baseball." Basically this is the year that, when you simulate up to it, fictional female players become available in the draft and free agent pool. (The default year is 2020.) Obviously there is no rule banning women. As the consensus argument goes: if and when they're good enough, they'll suit up be on a major league team.
A lot of publicity has surrounded Eri Yoshida, the 18-year-old pitcher who was signed by the Chico Outlaws of the Golden League. Is she good enough to make the major leagues someday? Maybe. But let's say she's just a decent relief pitcher — a Jason Grimsley without the PEDs — and finishes her short career with an ERA of about 5.00. This wouldn't really break the glass ceiling with authority, but it's enough for other women to follow suit.
Case in point: Yoshida's fellow countryman and another Dodgers Rookie of the Year: Hideo Nomo. He will probably not make the Hall of Fame by numbers alone (his HOF candidacy would be a fantastic debate for another time), but because of his spurts of success, such as his two no-hitters, many other Japanese players immigrated to the States and did quite well (Ichiro). Others did not (Kei Igawa), but the point is they were all signed and were given a chance. All because Nomo was the first to show that he could pitch against the best.
So maybe it doesn't matter that Jackie Robinson was a great player in the sense that simply wearing Dodger Blue was more important. The fact that he did show everyone that he could hit, reach base, steal home, and be a vital part of a World Series is the reason for his own day in baseball.