Friday, April 15, 2016

Million Dollar Questions

Today is Jackie Robinson Day, held annually on the anniversary of opening day of the 1947 baseball season, when Jack Roosevelt Robinson made his major league debut and became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) since the 1880s. On this day, all players, coaches, managers and umpires wore or are wearing #42 on their jerseys, Robinson's otherwise universally retired uniform number.

Image by Keith Allison, of Orioles players observing Jackie Robinson Day
at home in 2015, used through Creative Commons licence.

This morning, I (and many other people) received an email from MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr., "Honoring Jackie Robinson, 'a true hero'." Manfred notes that he and his wife watched Ken Burns' new documentary on the ball player, which premiered on PBS on Monday and Tuesday.

Image courtesy Google Street View.

The commissioner's email reminded me of a blog post I started a couple years ago about a planned Jackie Robinson Museum, on Canal Street in Manhattan. I never finished the post for all the usual reasons plus one: a reporter I know, Kate Briquelet, had already written the story. It seems little has changed.

Major League Baseball announced yesterday that it was increasing its financial commitment to the Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF) and the two organizations will expand their programmatic partnership. MLB is also earmarking $1,000,000 for the museum project. The foundation's scholarship program is laudable and organized baseball's support for it can also be commended.

However, as Briq made clear three years ago, one million dollars doesn't really bring the foundation any closer to opening the museum, estimated then to cost $42 million. Worse, Kate found that JRF spent about as much on rent—including for the vacant, 11,000 square foot, ground floor museum space—as it did on scholarships in 2011. MLB's donation just allows the foundation to pay the rent on the empty space for another couple years.

Author photo.

The museum was originally slated to open in 2010. Next year will mark the midpoint of the foundation's 20 year lease with Trinity Real Estate, the real estate investment and management arm of Trinity Church. In six years, we will observe the 75th anniversary of Robinson "breaking the color line." When will the Jackie Robinson Foundation, Major League Baseball, and Trinity admit that the museum is never going to raise enough money to open?

(l to r) Della Britton Baeza, JRF President and CEO; Robert D. Manfred Jr., Commissioner of Baseball, Rachel Robinson, Sharon Robinson, and Thomas Bennett, JRF Scholar Alumnus, yesterday.

In his message this morning, Commissioner Manfred wrote that it is impossible to watch the Ken Burns' documentary "without realizing that Rachel Robinson is an American treasure, a woman of substance and class who was a partner in every one of her husband's amazing achievements. We should cherish her." A museum has been a long-time dream of Mrs. Robinson, now 93. Will it take her death for everyone to come to their senses?

And if that is the case, what does it say about donors' support of the museum? Are the payments penance for the six decades when Blacks were barred from baseball? Is the money consolation for the Robinsons' trials and tribulations? Is one million dollars such a paltry amount within the business of baseball that MLB can just throw it away? These questions make me sad.

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