Dexter Fowler to be the first black man to play a World Series game as a member of the Cubs.
The Chicago Cubs will face off against Cleveland on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, and in doing so are set to make history in a way that sports fans and casual observers alike can appreciate.
It’s been a long time since the Chicago Cubs made it to the World Series — 71 years, to be exact. For that reason alone, the team’s 2016 season is one for the history books. The Cubs defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 to advance to their first World Series since the 1945 season.
But there’s another reason to celebrate their victory, one that has to do with just how much has changed in the past 71 years.
The last time the Cubs played in the World Series, baseball was still two years away from Jackie Robinson‘s history-making Major League Baseball debut.
A legend, a hero, and a true trailblazer, Robinson became the first black athlete to play Major League Baseball in 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. That year, Robinson was named Rookie of the Year; two seasons later, he was named National League MVP; in 1955, he won his one and only World Series championship.
On Oct. 25, Cubs center fielder and lead-off hitter Dexter Fowler will step into the batters’ box for the first pitch of the 2016 World Series.
Fowler, who is black, will not only be the first member of the Cubs to step up to the plate in the team’s first World Series appearance in 71 years, but he will be the first black man to do so in a Cubs uniform.
Sportswriter Rany Jazayerli was one of the first people to have made the connection, posting the observation to his Twitter account:
How appropriate that the first Cub to play in the WS will be a black man (Dexter Fowler) – they weren’t even allowed to play the last time.
— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) October 23, 2016
The tweet caught Fowler’s attention. Clearly, this bit of history, as delayed as it may be, means a lot to him.
Pretty cool, right? In the past, Fowler has talked about Jackie Robinson’s achievements, highlighting how Robinson’s work and sacrifice helped pave the way for his own success in MLB.
“I don’t think God could have picked a better person [than Jackie Robinson] to do it,” Fowler said in an interview a few years back. “It definitely takes a strong individual to do that.”
In sports and in life, we’ve made a lot of progress over the past 71 years. There’s still a long way to go.
In 1953, Ernie Banks became the first black athlete to play for the Cubs. While he went on to have a Hall of Fame career, he never made it to the World Series, and it ate him up inside.
“Sometimes I’m at a Hall of Fame reunion and I’ll look around and see I’m the only one in the room who never played in a World Series,” said Banks in an interview with Ron Rapoport. “I’ve had nightmares about it. Once I even talked to a psychiatrist. There wasn’t much he could say, just that I’d done the best I could and it wasn’t meant to be.”
Sadly, Banks passed away in January 2015 without seeing his beloved Cubs do what he tried to accomplish during his own career. Still, it’s the progress and work of players like him and like Robinson that got us to where we are today in terms of racial equality in sports, and that might be more important than any championship ring.
There’s still work to be done, however. So long as inequality in its many forms exists — whether on the basis of race, gender, religion, class, country of origin, or anything else — there’s work to be done, and whether you’re a Jackie Robinson, an Ernie Banks, or a Dexter Fowler, you can help bring about positive change in the world through bravery and empathy for others. It’s about much, much more than sports; it’s about life.