- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

A couple of sports columnists in New York — and even Scripps Howard political analyst Martin Schram, for heaven’s sake — have proposed that the Mets’ new ballpark in Flushing Meadows be named after Jackie Robinson.

Forget it — it’s never gonna happen. And shouldn’t.

When it comes to appreciating what Robinson did for us after joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, I like to think I’m right up there. He was an early hero in the civil rights movement that swept through America in the 1960s, turning our nation truly into the land of the free.

But naming a stadium after him would be an empty gesture — one that mostly would make baseball feel better about itself after establishing an imaginary color line when Moses Fleetwood Walker was dropkicked out of the National League in 1884 and maintaining it for 63 years.

Baseball already has done its part to hail Robinson by retiring his No. 42 for all clubs and posting a sign bearing that number in all ballparks. I’m not sure the former was a good idea, because the fact of some players wearing No. 42 in memory of him did Jackie greater honor. Nonetheless, you can’t enter a major league park today without being reminded of who Jackie Robinson was and what he did.

However, the biggest reason the Mets’ new park won’t be named for Robinson is — surprise! — money. The ballclub will get $10 million, $20 million or $50 million for peddling the name to some fat cat company. (How about Preparation H Stadium, with this slogan: “You Never Felt So Good Sitting Down”?)

This naming-rights business has gotten totally out of hand. The University of Maryland will collect $20 million for allowing its 56-year-old football facility to be called Chevy Chase Bank Field at Byrd Stadium — a moniker so awkward that probably not even athletic director Debbie Yow, who engineered the deal, can say it with a straight face.

And considering the nature of Washington’s major industry, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nationals’ Anacostia Waterfront playpen opens in 2008 with the title of Pontification Park, Subterfuge Stadium or Flapdoodle Field. Heck, maybe the Nats could get John McLaughlin or Chris Matthews to throw out the first ball.

Many of us grew up watching teams play in stadiums with historic, evocative names: Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, even ramshackle Griffith Stadium in D.C. But where’s the magic in Verizon Center, M&T; Bank Stadium or Comerica Park? In fact, some places seem to change appellations whenever the wind blows or somebody outbids somebody else. Come to think of it, whatever happened to MCI Center?

As far as Robinson is concerned, another negative is that the Mets didn’t even exist when he ended his playing career in 1956. I realize the club served as an emotional substitute for National League fans in New York after the Giants and Dodgers skipped town in 1957, and its colors — royal blue and orange — represent both departed teams, but none of this has anything to do with Robinson.

Shut your eyes and try to picture Jackie Robinson in a Mets uniform — you can’t. Nor could anybody picture him in Giants garb, which is why he retired after the heartless Dodgers traded him to their archrivals after the 1956 season.

If the Mets want to honor somebody, how about Casey Stengel, who guided them during their first incarnation as lovable losers? Whenever the Mets make an error, an electronic Casey on the scoreboard could shake his head and mutter, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”.

Dealing with the situation emotionally rather than fiscally, some new ballparks should be named after hometown heroes. In the past, I’ve lobbied for Walter Johnson Park hereabouts or Babe Ruth Park in Baltimore. (True, the Bambino never played for the major league Orioles, but he was born a couple of blocks from Camden Yards, and his dad ran a saloon in what is now center field.)

When it comes to Jackie Robinson, though, we can best pay homage by remembering him as a great American who stood very tall to change the social fabric of his country for the betterment of us all. No other honor is necessary.

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