Ken Griffey Jr. was instrumental in the way baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day, suggesting to commissioner Bud Selig more than a decade ago that players for this one day a year be allowed to wear No. 42, which has been retired by MLB. This year’s celebration, taking place today throughout the majors, has been expanded to all players wearing No. 42.
” I just wanted to say thank you in my own little subtle way, and that was it,” Griffey said Wednesday of his original proposal. ” That’s what it’s about: Giving back to the people that helped you.
“I knew the (Robinson) family. It was just my way of saying thank you. I had no idea it would be something like this. I think this is a great cause. There’s a lot of people in here that wouldn’t be in here if it wasn’t for him. The family deserves this. You never know how long it would have been if he would have failed.”
Griffey said he was steeped in the history of Negro League Baseball as well as Robinson’s struggles by his father, Ken Griffey Sr.., as well as some baseball pioneers he encountered.
“Well, I had Joe Black, Brooks Lawrence, Chuck Harmon Sr., who all were good friends wth my dad. They figured I should know a little about baseball history, or just history itself. They proceeded to drill me on certain things. Then getting to play in pro ball, I had a guy named Willie Mays pull me aside every year. They didn’t tell you like they were drilling it into your head. It was more them telling stories like a grandfather would tell their grandson. That’s how I learned about certain things. ”
Griffey has strong opinions on the decline of African-American players in the major leagues, and how baseball can began attracting more African-Americans to the ball fields and ball parks.
“First of all, they’ve got to start off with better commercials,” he said. “The commercials are (bad). Think about it. You look at the NBA, NFL, their commercials, and they make you want to go out and play basketball, go play football. They show the excitement of the game itself. In baseball, it’s come to the bleeping All-Star Game. And that’s it. They don’t show the excitement of the game.”
I asked Griffey if he has told this to Selig.
“I’ve said the same thing for three years, four years, five years — maybe seven. I think you’ve got to show the kids the fun side of playing the sport, instead of just, ‘Hey, show up here.’
“If you’re going to see a drastic improvement, it has to be at the ground level. That’s where the love of the game starts. It doesn’t start in high school or college. It starts off in t-ball. You’ve got to want to go out there and play…It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white; the commercials are terrible. It doesn’t show who we are as people. It just promotes one spot, postseason or the All-Star game. It doesn’t show any of the fun stuff that goes on in between pitches, or the dugout, where guys are laughing.”
I think this problem goes deeper than commercials, but I agree with Griffey that better promotion would be a good starting point.