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Why Jackie Robinson’s Hall of Fame Plaque Had to Change

A legacy sometimes ends up obscuring achievements. Jackie Robinson may have been fearful of this happening to his legacy when he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. At that time, Robinson requested that his induction plaque focus exclusively on his statistics and record as a baseball player. He did not want it to make any mention of his role as a historic “first” in Major League Baseball, as the first Black player to cross the league’s color line and begin desegregating the game.

Robinson was right that his legacy is worth celebrating: career batting average of .311, in the top 20 of his era, and six championships in 10 seasons, which still stands as the National League’s record. If he had been anything other than a trailblazer, he’d still be remembered for his impressive talents.

However, in 2008, Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson announced the decision to update the plaque and include information regarding Robinson’s status as a man who helped change sports and society. He said that Robinson’s “impact is not fully defined without mention of his extreme courage in breaking baseball’s color barrier. The time is right to recognize his contribution to history, not only as a Hall of Fame player, but also as a civil rights pioneer.”

Gretchen Sorin, director of the Cooperstown Graduate Program said, “This is a country that loves to ignore its history of discrimination. People say to me, ‘I had no idea,’ about discrimination that took place, even within their lifetimes.”

Jackie Robinson’s career stands as one of the most powerful testimonials to that history, and something would be amiss if his Hall of Fame citation ignored the racism he faced. Still, the story behind the plaque reveals a more private struggle of Robinson’s: to be seen as a man and not just a message. His current plaque reads a little differently once you know that Robinson never wanted it that way.


Matthew Taub, “Why Jackie Robinson’s Hall of Fame Plaque Had to Change,” Atlas Obscura (9-2-20)

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