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New Dodgers owners seek to include family of Jackie Robinson

Incoming owners see a role for the family of the man who broke the color barrier with their team. His daughter cites longtime friendship with Magic Johnson and close connection with team.

April 15, 2012|By Bill Shaikin

NEW YORK — As baseball celebrates the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier for the Dodgers, the new stewards of his old team are working to embrace his family in the incoming ownership group.

Sharon Robinson, the daughter of the late Hall of Fame infielder, confirmed Sunday the Dodgers' incoming owners have invited the Robinson family and its foundation to play a significant role with the team.

"We hope that we will be involved," Sharon Robinson said. "It's a very important franchise. It's a team we still feel very connected to. We're really proud of how they came out of the gate this year. We want to see the whole franchise re-energized, just like the team seems to be."

Robinson said no formal agreement has been reached and declined to discuss what role her family might wish to play with the Dodgers. She said Guggenheim Baseball Management — the ownership group fronted by Magic Johnson — initiated the discussions through Leonard Coleman, the former National League president and current chairman of the board of the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

Robinson spoke warmly of Johnson, a friend for three decades. Before he died in 1972, Jackie Robinson longed aloud for a day when African Americans would not only play for major league teams but manage them, and work in their front offices. The face of the Dodgers' new ownership group is African American.

"It is groundbreaking," she said. "I think it's exciting. I think it's going to breathe some new life into the Dodgers' organization. I think he'll be out there in the community, really bringing more fans back in."

Sharon Robinson was at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, where the annual Jackie Robinson commemoration was juxtaposed against the latest evidence of the decline in African American players.

African Americans make up 8% of major league players, down from 19% in 1995 and 27% in 1975, according to USA Today.

Johnson can help if he can get out of the office, New York Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson said.

"It's going to be a tough thing," Granderson said. "I don't know what kind of things he's got in store. Hopefully, he can get some kids to the ballpark to see games, and he can get out in the community.

"I don't think him being part-owner is going to be enough."

Angels pitcher LaTroy Hawkins participated in a panel discussion on the issue here Friday night and in a Robinson Foundation youth clinic on Sunday. Hawkins had a Brooklyn Dodgers cap in his Yankee Stadium locker on Sunday night.

Hawkins said he was not sure he could give Johnson any particular bit of advice to help reverse the slide in African American participation in baseball.

"Nobody's figured that out yet," Hawkins said.

Sharon Robinson called the problem "multifaceted," but baseball's remembrance of her father helps.

She believes current players sharing the Jackie Robinson story resonates with children, but many players were unaware of the story until Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig instituted the annual ceremony in 1997.

"Here we are concerned that we have a decreasing number of African Americans," Sharon Robinson said. "So, yes, it is very important to bring back up the history, and to think about how much we went through to get a fully integrated MLB.

"It's important for young people to hear the story. I'm very happy the players feel that connected. Just think, in 1997, players were saying, 'Jackie who?'"

Reggie Jackson, the Yankees' Hall of Fame outfielder, said he was not sure why the percentage of African American players had fallen so dramatically, but he saw a beacon in Johnson's ascension to the Dodgers ownership group.

"I'm glad to see an African American involved in baseball at the ownership level," Jackson said. "I'm very proud of that."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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