Jackie's widow receives Buck O'Neil honor from Hall of Fame
By Richard Justice
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Rachel Robinson's legacy is a simple one. She represents the best of us. Her life has been one of unshakeable courage, and in the face of sometimes incomprehensible cruelty, her dignity and grace have been unwavering.
She has dedicated her life to leaving this world better than she found it, whether by supporting her husband Jackie in his quest for racial fairness, or in leading foundations that provided everything from housing to college scholarships.
For her good work and a life well lived, Robinson, 95, was given the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award by the board of directors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Saturday afternoon.
She's the fourth winner of an award first given in 2008 to honor someone whose work in baseball and whose "character, integrity and dignity" are in the spirit of O'Neil, the Negro Leagues legend, who died in 2006 after eight decades working in and around baseball.
"Rachel has worked tirelessly to raise the level of equality, not only in baseball, but throughout society," Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark said. "Through her grace, her dignity, her unsurpassed spirit, she continues to show the value, the decency and the importance of inclusiveness. She personifies the strengths of Buck O'Neil, and certainly personifies his character."
Rachel accepted the award at Doubleday Field, a few hundred feet from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and with an array of Hall of Famers applauding.
Frank Robinson was there and Joe Morgan as well, two of the players who've said they owe their careers in Major League Baseball to Jackie Robinson's breaking of the game's color line on April 15, 1947.
That's the most important date in baseball history, because its impact was felt around the United States. That step -- a black man playing with white baseball players -- forced people to see the world in a way they'd never seen it before.
This happened before President Truman integrated the Army in 1948 and before the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling began the desegregation of public schools.
Rachel Robinson supported her husband of 26 years, every step of the way, and in 1997, she supported baseball's decision to retire his No. 42 throughout the sport.
In returning to Cooperstown, she remembered her husband's 1962 induction into the Hall of Fame.
"I have such fond memories," she said. "It was a glorious day for our family."
But Rachel Robinson carved out another life for herself after her husband died in 1972. She received a master's degree in psychiatric nursing from New York University and became director of nursing for the Connecticut Mental Health Center and an assistant professor at Yale.
She started the Jackie Robinson Development Corporation to build and provide housing for moderate- and low-income families. She also formed the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which has provided financial and mentorship support to more than 1,500 students.
"We are so proud of the nearly 100 percent graduation rate of our Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars," she said. "It makes me proud that our 1,500 alumni display an ongoing commitment to community service and stay very active in that area."
These works mean that the heart and spirit of Jackie and Rachel Robinson will continue to impact the world for years to come.
"For me, today is a brilliant source of encouragement," he said. "I've felt so wonderful since I've been here, and I thank you all."
This baseball season began with Rachel and her children, Sharon and David, attending the unveiling of a Jackie Robinson Statue at Dodger Stadium. That statue -- the first of any kind at Dodger Stadium -- shows Jackie sliding into home plate and and includes some of Jackie's iconic quotes.
This is one: "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
Rachel Robinson also attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Jackie Robinson Museum in lower Manhattan. It's scheduled to open in the spring of 2019.
"The museum will expand our missions and give us a venue for vibrant dialogue on social issues and also a destination for innovative educational programming," she said.
MLB Network's exclusive live coverage of the 2017 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony -- simulcast live on MLB.com -- begins with MLB Tonight Sunday at noon ET, followed by the ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Prior to Sunday's live coverage, you can watch a rebroadcast of the 2017 Hall of Fame Awards Presentation at 11 a.m. ET on MLB Network. It features Rachel Robinson (Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award), Claire Smith (J.G. Taylor Spink Award for writers), and the posthumous honoring of Bill King (Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters). The presentation will also commemorate the 25th anniversary of the release of the film, "A League of Their Own."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.