‘A man of action:’ Robinson statue unveiled at Dodger Stadium

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There’s nothing quite so exciting in a baseball game as when someone steals home. Dashing to the plate from third base before the pitcher can react requires smarts, courage and timing.

Jackie Robinson stole home 19 times during his career. No player in the modern era of baseball has done it more. It’s fitting that a new statue of Robinson at Dodger Stadium depicts him in mid-theft – legs outstretched, arms in the air, face frozen in concentration – as he prepares to slide feet into home plate with what we imagine to be the winning run.

The Robinson statue is a first for Dodger Stadium. It was unveiled this weekend on the 70th anniversary of the day that Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.

Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon Robinson, is an author and an educational consultant for Major League Baseball. KCRW spoke with her ahead of Saturday’s unveiling.

Sharon Robinson: The artist choose to depict my father in action because he was a man of action either on the baseball field or off the baseball field so we actually haven’t seen the final sculpture yet, so we’re gonna be watching the processes and make suggestions but ultimately it’s up to the artist so.

KCRW: So it will be a bit of a surprise for you as well.

SR: It will be a surprise! We’re just excited that posed to honor him in this way.

KCRW: Now a lot of baseball teams have statues at their stadiums honoring great players but Dodgers Stadium never has until now and even though he spent his entire career with the Brooklyn Dodgers it seems right that Jackie Robinson is the first. How did this come about the Dodgers decided to put up a statue of Jackie Robinson, your father?

SR: Well a number of people have come forward and told me that they were in on pushing the Dodgers to do this so I think it was ultimately a decision that the Dodgers made that they wanted to have sculptures at the Dodger Stadium and they wanted to start off with my father and the 70th anniversary was looming, so they decided to do it in time for the 70th anniversary. And my father grew up in Pasadena, California. He went to UCLA and Pasadena City College so he is a California man and even though he didn’t play for the LA Dodgers, he’s from the area.

KCRW: And there is a statue of your father outside the stadium that’s named after him in West LA where UCLA plays its games.

SR: Absolutely, yeah.

KCRW: I’d like that the statue honors both your father’s baseball career and his social legacy, in addition to depicting him to sliding into home, it also includes several quotes from your father. Can you tell us about that?

SR: I think that’s wonderful. My father had as long of a time in the civil rights movement raising money, going out you know, just being a spokesperson and being present so I think it’s very appropriate that they look at this man, that’s why I said he’s a man of action. It’s his work in the civil rights movement or his writing or even if politics so they actually chose one of our favorite quotes and that’s ‘life is not important, except for the impact it has on others’ and that’s how he lived his life.

KCRW: It’s been 70 years since your father made his debut in the major leagues. Do you think that he would be pleased with the progress that has been made by major league baseball on racial equality and by society in general?

SR: We all feel like we had to continue to work business so a lot of work to be done and it’s even gotten more critical recently with you know the attitudes towards immigrants and women continue to struggle to maintain what we’ve gained for women and yet we haven’t gone up far enough for women. So, trouble is not going and we learned when we were kids and our father taught us that struggle is ongoing, you can’t ever think that you achieve something that is lasting you have to be vigilant and work towards a lasting change.

KCRW: I understand that you’ll have a lot of friends and family on hand on the unveiling of this statue on Saturday, including your mother, Rachel, a noted civil rights activist in her own right. She’s 95 now, I think?

SR: She’s turning 95 in July and she’s making the trip, as we speak with my brother and I and she is a true, you know absolute joy and you know we’ll be able to make it to Los Angeles for this event.

KCRW: What does this mean for her? To have this statue at Dodger Stadium?

SR: You know I think it’s a combination of things. It’s a family reunion. My brother was able to be here from Tanzania, East Africa. So that’s making her very happy that Dodgers are very important to us. We remain fans and loyal to the team as a family. She’s thrilled that we’re going to now see this sculpture unveil. It’s a big deal.

KCRW: What do you want people to think of when they see the statue of your father out in front of Dodger Stadium?

SR: See him in action. Taking a risk. Forging forward. Vow to beat the pitcher [laughs] he’s going to steal home, you know, fighting for rights. I really hope they see really all of that into a friendly sculpture.