The game of character

March 03, 2005

IN 10 SEASONS in major-league baseball, Jack Roosevelt Robinson hit for a .311 average and was a hellion on the basepaths and a vacuum in the field. But of course, Jackie Robinson is much less remembered for his game than for his groundbreaking role in transforming the game of baseball and, to a remarkable degree, American society.

Yesterday, Mr. Robinson, who died in 1972, was belatedly honored with a Congressional Gold Medal, awarded about 300 times since the Revolutionary War as Congress' highest expression of national appreciation. The award comes almost 58 years after he became the major leagues' first black player by starting for the Brooklyn Dodgers in an opening-day game against the Boston Braves, a team that had passed on signing him after a tryout.

Mr. Robinson was carefully selected by the Dodgers as the man to shatter baseball's color barrier because of his maturity and character. His perseverance in the face of vile bigotry has long been well documented.

Today, major-league rosters are composed of players of diverse colors and nationalities, but the character of the game - with its drug problems - is in deep question. Given that, yesterday's national honoring of Mr. Robinson is a reminder for those both on the field and off that big stats are great, but it is character that really endures.

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