The City of New York and the New York Mets have unveiled plans for the new stadium that will replace Shea Stadium on Opening Day in 2009. One major question is this: what should be the name of this new park? Shea Stadium was named for lawyer William Shea, whom Mayor Lindsay at the time noted was the most instrumental person in getting the place built, thus the appellation for the place that the Mets have called home for 42 years was odd but understandable; however, they will have to give the new stadium a different name, and I believe it should be Jackie Robinson Field.
The connections between the New York Mets and the Brooklyn Dodgers are quite tangible and most vivid for Mets fans, especially those persons who are 55 years old and older. Just like our Mets, the Brooklyn Dodgers were the underdog team in a city dominated by the damn Yankees across the river. They were a blue-collar team to be sure (as Newsday sportswriter Jon Heyman has noted, the Yankees are “about as blue-collar as Monte Carlo”), having a deep fan base in the poor and working classes in Brooklyn, Queens, and later Long Island. While they had some amazing players over the years (Duke Snider no doubt being their best all-around player, eventually rivaling Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle as the top centerfielder in baseball), none had such a visceral and long-lasting impact as Jackie Robinson.
Whatever the motivation was for Branch Rickey to sign Robinson (and I have heard many varying stories over the years), the fact that the first black player in the Major Leagues was on the Dodgers changed baseball and American society forever. World War Two had ended only two years before and the armed forces were still segregated during that time; when the Korean conflict started a few years later, our forces would be integrated and there would be a move across the country to do the same thing in schools, the workforce, and in communities.
Jackie Robinson opened the door and behind him hundreds of other black players were waiting. Robinson was an exemplary person, an extraordinary ballplayer, and his success and good will were felt by players of all colors. Because of Robinson, the Major Leagues slowly became diversified and play rose to an infinitely better level. My grand uncle, who played in the minor leagues in the 1920s, said, “Our white team was always beaten when we played against the black teams in pick-up games because the blacks were better players,” so this influx of talent certainly pushed all players to be better athletes out of necessity.