Don Newcombe has a story for anyone who doubts baseball's role in the struggle for civil rights in the United States.
It was March of 1968 and Newcombe, one of the first players to follow
Martin Luther King Jr. was visiting.
"He said, 'Don, it wasn't easy. I just want you to know — and I want the others to know — that without what you did on the baseball field, I would never have succeeded,' " Newcombe recalled King telling him.
Robinson, Newcombe and Roy Campanella were teammates for six seasons with the
"The Dodgers, they were the start of it. They started so many things," said Newcombe, who still works for the team as a special advisor to Chairman Mark Walter.
It was Branch Rickey, the Dodgers general manager, who had the courage to first offer Robinson a contract. And it was Robinson who had the courage to accept it. Without either, Newcombe said, things could have been different. And not just in baseball.
"What would have happened to Martin if he had tried that in 1946, without what we had done?" Newcombe asked.
Newcombe then recounted another story, this one from 1954, when he, Larry Doby and other African American ballplayers were barnstorming through the South with Robinson. Before a game in Montgomery, Ala., they sat in the dugout with King, then a little-known minister from Atlanta, who promised them they had inspired the movement he said was coming.
A year later, the Montgomery bus boycott kicked off the civil rights fight King would lead.
Baseball said the Civil Rights Game was developed to recognize the spirit of Robinson, Newcombe, King and others who pioneered that movement.
"We're proud of the role the Dodgers have played in professional sports history as pioneers of social change since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier," Dodgers owner Magic Johnson said. "From Jackie to Sandy Koufax to Fernando Valenzuela to Hideo Nomo to Chan Ho Park to now Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Dodgers have sought to lead the way and be a model of inclusion in sports and American society as a whole."
This spring's game, to be played on the 70th anniversary of Robinson's signing his first contract with the Dodgers, will be the second to feature the Dodgers but the first to be played in Los Angeles.
In addition to the Civil Rights Game, MLB and the Dodgers will conduct a youth baseball-focused event, host the "Baseball & Civil Rights Movement Round Table Discussion" and honor recipients of the annual Beacon Awards, which pay tribute to those who have made significant contributions to the civil rights movement.
Details for these events will be announced at a later date.