Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Jackie Robinson is subject of Ken Burns’ documentary

About 20 years ago, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig realized there was a big problem. A survey of young minor league baseball players revealed that many of them didn’t know who Jackie Robinson was and what significant contribution he made to the game of baseball.

Selig, whose stint as commissioner included a lost World Series because the major league owners locked out the players over stalled labor negotiations, an All Star Game that ended in a tie and the steroid era, acted decisively for one of the few times in his tenure as commissioner.

He ordered that the number 42, which Robinson wore on his Brooklyn Dodgers jersey during his 10-year career, be retired and that no new players would be issued that number on any team. Players who were wearing 42 at the time could wear the number until they left the game. After that, the only time the number 42 would be worn on a Major League Baseball field would be every April 15.

On that day — Robinson’s first game with the Dodgers was April 15, 1947 — all players wear number 42 in tribute to the man who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, helping pave the way for the civil rights movement.

As baseball begins its 60th season with black ball players, Robinson is in the spotlight again.

Documentarian Ken Burns has produced a four-hour documentary on Robinson, which airs on PBS April 11 and 12. Burns, who produced a nine-part documentary on baseball in 1994, calls Robinson, “without a doubt, the most important person in the history of baseball.”

His documentary follows Robinson’s early life, his military career during World War II, his baseball career and his life after baseball.

Along the way he shatters a few myths about Robinson.

Burns had the cooperation of Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson, in putting the documentary together.

“It’s a love story, too,” Burns said, citing the bond between the Robinsons.

Burns is a strong admirer of Robinson. Not only does he consider Robinson the most important person in baseball history, he calls him “one of the greatest individuals in American history.”

On a recent radio talk show promoting the documentary, Burns said: “Think about it. He broke baseball’s color barrier when Martin Luther King Jr. was still in school. It was seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. the Board of Education. Eight years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.

“Him walking through the doors of Major League Baseball made a profound social difference,” Burns added.

Directed by Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband, David McMahon, “Jackie Robinson” airs on PBS channels across the country April 11 and 12 at 9 p.m. It also is available on DVD through Amazon and other outlets.

Don’t miss it.

Lakers great Kobe Bryant will end his 20-year career with the team April 13 when the Lakers host the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. Bryant retires as the third all-time leading scorer in NBA history. (Courtesy photo)
Lakers great Kobe Bryant will end his 20-year career with the team April 13 when the Lakers host the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. Bryant retires as the third all-time leading scorer in NBA history.
(Courtesy photo)

KOBE’S FINALE: On April 13, Kobe Bryant will play his final professional basketball game and walk off the court at Staples Center for the last time.

He will definitely go down as one of the greatest players to play the game.

He has scored the third most points in NBA history, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone.

He has won five NBA titles, played in 15 All Star Games and won the most valuable player award in the All Star Game four times.

His 81-point game against Toronto in 2006 is the second most points ever scored by a player in an NBA game, topped only by Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points back in 1962.

It definitely will be the end of an era.

Bryant is one of the best players to ever play in the league and he played his entire career on one of the best franchises in NBA history. So where does Bryant rank on the list of all-time Lakers?

Jerry West, who has to be in the top five, calls Kobe the greatest Laker ever. That’s high praise indeed because West played with Elgin Baylor and was the general manager and architect of the 1980s Showtime Era Lakers that won five NBA titles.

Bryant played shooting guard most of his career, switching to small forward this year.

If I was picking an all-time starting Laker lineup, that’s where Bryant would play, small forward.

The guards would be West and Magic Johnson. The other forward would be Elgin Baylor, slightly ahead of James Worthy. Abdul-Jabbar would be the center, edging out Shaquille O’Neal and Chamberlain.

Who knows what retirement has in store for Bryant? Will he follow West’s footsteps and become a team-builder, or will he follow Magic’s path and become a successful businessmen?

Yes, he shoots too much. Yes, he could have been a better team player. Yes, he and Shaq should have won another title or two.

But overall it has been a pleasure watching Kobe Bean Bryant play basketball for the last 20 years and he will be talked about forever when the greats of the game are discussed.

The Dodgers did a whole lot of high-five celebrating in the dugout on opening day April 4 as they pounded the San Diego Padres, 15-0. (Photo by Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)
The Dodgers did a whole lot of high-five celebrating in the dugout on opening day April 4 as they pounded the San Diego Padres, 15-0. (Photo by Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

NICE START: There’s nothing like outscoring your opponent 18-0 in the first two games of the baseball season to make even the most pessimistic fan happy and looking forward to the rest of the season. But, truth of the matter is, the San Diego Padres are not a very good baseball team.

I’ll be much more impressed if we can split with the San Francisco Giants this weekend in San Francisco

Everything clicked for the Dodgers in the season opener April 4. Clayton Kershaw gave up one hit in seven innings and the entire offense clicked with 17 hits and four players having two or more runs batted in and the Dodgers won, 15-0.

The next night, newcomer Scott Kazmir pitched six one-hit innings, Yasiel Puig hit his second triple in consecutive games and the Dodgers won, 3-0.

Dodger fans were starting to wonder after the season opened with 10 players on the disabled list and Zack Greinke in Arizona. Hope springs eternal in baseball and Dodger fans are breathing easier with only 160 games to go.

The Los Angeles Rams have reached an agreement to conduct practices for the regular season for the next two years at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. The team plans to build a permanent facility somewhere in the region. (Courtesy photo)
The Los Angeles Rams have reached an agreement to conduct practices for the regular season for the next two years at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. The team plans to build a permanent facility somewhere in the region. (Courtesy photo)

GETTING SETTLED: Yes, Ram fans. Your team is officially back.

The Rams have signed a deal to train at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks for at least the next two years.

They will conduct regular-season practices at Cal Lutheran from September through January, then base their off-season activities there from March through July next year. The team will pay for the installation of two practice fields, along with a paved parking lot and temporary modular buildings for offices.

The agreement allows for the team to use the campus as its training base for up to five years while it finalizes construction of a permanent facility.

The team previously signed an agreement with the city of Oxnard to conduct its spring practices this year at city-owned River Ridge Fields while it searched for a training camp location.

The Rams also announced season ticket prices for games at the Coliseum this coming fall.

Season tickets will range from $360 to $2,025 for nine games — two exhibitions and seven regular season games. The eighth regular season home game will be in London.

That’s cheaper than I expected. Forty dollars a game isn’t bad for the NFL, even in nosebleed sections.

Anyone thinking that $40 will get you into the new Inglewood stadium in a few years had better think again. That $40 might get your car parked, though.