After Jackie Robinson statue is destroyed, Wichita rallies round a baseball league

Photo of author

By Calvin S. Nelson

It was round midday final Thursday when Bob Lutz walked outdoors of his work and headed residence earlier than the beginning of his day by day radio present. He appeared throughout seventeenth Avenue in Wichita, Kan., from the places of work of League 42, the nonprofit baseball league he based in 2013. On a wet, overcast day, he gazed over towards the Jackie Robinson statue the league had erected in 2021. The statue was an emblem of hope and resilience. Lutz, although, couldn’t see the bronze depiction of the person who broke baseball’s coloration barrier.

For a second, Lutz puzzled if it was lined by fog. He blinked. Seemed once more. Doubting himself, he known as an assistant out of the constructing to hitch him. The lady appeared and likewise couldn’t see the statue.

Quickly they have been throughout the road, the place the odd hallucination of a lacking statue turned to actuality. Jackie Robinson was gone, lower simply above his shoetops.

“The feelings,” Lutz mentioned, “have been overwhelming.”

The story that adopted grew to become a nationwide headline. Surveillance video captured people coming into the Jackie Robinson Pavillion round midnight Thursday, eradicating the statue valued at $75,000 and inserting it in a truck. Wichita police held a information convention and pleaded for its return.

“I’m annoyed by the actions of these people who had the audacity to take the statue of Jackie Robinson from a park the place youngsters and households in our neighborhood collect to study the historical past of Jackie Robinson, an American icon, and play the sport of baseball,” Wichita police Chief Joe Sullivan mentioned throughout a information convention Friday. “This could upset all of us.”

Lutz’s worst fears have been quickly realized. Tuesday morning, Wichita’s Fireplace Division responded to stories of a trash can hearth at Garvey Park. The hearth was extinguished. Left in its ashes have been items of the Robinson statue.


Though it’s unclear whether or not the theft and destruction was racially motivated, the act struck deeply on the hearts of these invested in League 42 and the broader baseball neighborhood.

“I’ve been disenchanted because it was stolen,” Lutz mentioned. “It’s incomprehensible that individuals would do that. However when individuals do one thing that dastardly, it will probably’t be a shock after they’ve achieved one thing equally dastardly. I wasn’t shocked. I’m simply unhappy about the entire thing. It’s too dangerous that individuals would desecrate our statue, particularly a statue of Jackie Robinson.”

League 42 began in 2013 as Lutz’s brainchild. A longtime journalist and radio host and a lifelong lover of baseball, he was disheartened as he learn tales and noticed statistics concerning the dwindling numbers of younger Individuals taking part in baseball. Rising prices and the proliferation of journey ball tradition have made the sport much less accessible than ever.

“The concept was it bothered me that younger youngsters, particularly younger youngsters of coloration, have been being shut out of taking part in baseball,” Lutz mentioned. “I feel each child ought to have that chance.”

With the assistance of native companions, Lutz labored to start out an inexpensive league that expenses $30 per household. League 42 supplies uniforms and tools. It caps its enrollment at 600 kids, a manner of specializing in high quality over amount.

The league obtained its namesake within the early days, when Lutz and others have been assembly over the topic. A number of individuals threw out names. None of them caught. Lastly, somebody within the group pitched the thought of honoring Jackie Robinson. Virtually instantly, another person replied: “Why don’t we name it League 42?”

“It’s like a lightning bolt had struck,” Lutz mentioned. “It was the apparent title for us.”

Because the league charted its path ahead and grew its enrollment, Lutz mentioned it tried to emulate Robinson’s legacy in a number of methods. The league supplies academic packages and has taught the significance of Robinson’s trailblazing spirit within the face of racism, threats of violence and lots of of humanity’s worst impulses.

In 2014, the league began with 16 groups and 200 kids. By 2020, it had grown to 44 groups. In 2015, League 42 secured a $1.5 million contribution from town to boost its amenities and add a 3rd taking part in subject at McAdams Park.

Ultimately, the league sought to erect a statue of Robinson as an emblem of its values and its mission. League 42 consulted with title, picture and likeness attorneys and obtained permission from the Robinson household and the Jackie Robinson Basis. The Wichita neighborhood rallied to lift cash for the statue and gave the fee to native artist John Parsons. The Robinson statue was erected in 2021.

The statue’s unveiling in 2021. (Courtesy of League 42)

Lower than three years later, when that statue disappeared, the response was visceral.

“I really feel like I’ve misplaced an in depth buddy or relative and my anger is raging,” Lutz wrote that day on Fb. “I truthfully don’t know what to do.”

Lutz, although, was rapidly overwhelmed by an outpouring of help. Individuals from Wichita and much past reached out. Neighborhood members gathered on the Jackie Robinson Pavilion as a form of vigil. They positioned roses and a purple hat with the quantity 42 the place the statue as soon as stood. A heart-shaped word on the flowers learn: We miss you. They discovered the mould from the unique statue continues to be viable, and a GoFundMe account raised practically $50,000 for a brand new statue in two days.

Lutz additionally acquired phrases of encouragement from Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas Metropolis, Mo., who had visited League 42 in 2022 and brought an image with the Robinson statue. “We obtained your again,” Kendrick advised him.

“They’re doing tremendously invaluable work in opening up alternatives for teenagers of all colours to play this recreation, which is one thing that the museum has as a part of its mission,” Kendrick mentioned. “We’re right here to protect a treasured piece of baseball americana and its previous. We even have an vital function in serving to develop our recreation.”

The lack of the statue, Kendrick mentioned, can function an unlucky reminder of the hatred that also persists in society.

“With progress,” Kendrick mentioned, “comes that tendency to neglect.”

In 2021, locals in Cairo, Ga., found a historic marker commemorating the place of Robinson’s start had been peppered with hearth from a shotgun. Authorities noticed heightened injury across the phrases “Negro American” and “baseball’s coloration barrier.” Main League Baseball responded with a $40,000 reward to the Georgia Historic Society, permitting for a brand new marker and an endowment fund in Robinson’s title.

In Wichita, whereas police proceed their seek for the perpetrators behind the theft, the neighborhood continues to rally behind the group. It has left Lutz emotionally overwhelmed otherwise.

Observing from afar, Kendrick notes the parallels between League 42 and the person it honors.

“You’ll be able to steal the statue, however you can’t steal the spirit of what Jackie represented,” Kendrick mentioned. “I feel what you’re seeing from the general public at giant is a Jackie Robinson-like resolve for good to beat evil. And so each time that you just’re prepared to surrender on humanity — and we all know we are able to’t surrender on humanity — humanity steps as much as the plate and reminds us of what we already know: There are extra good individuals than dangerous individuals. At all times has been, all the time will likely be.”

For the reason that theft of the statue, Lutz has been offering fixed updates on his Fb web page. In a submit Tuesday, he vented concerning the unknowable motives behind those that stole and burned the statue. Why did they do it? Have they felt any regret? Do they know of Jackie Robinson and why he stays such a poignant image of hope?

“I hope to study extra concerning the perpetrators within the coming days,” Lutz wrote. “In the event that they have been introduced into my workplace on the Leslie Rudd Studying Middle, I might not be indignant. I might ask them the questions I’ve posed right here. And I hope I might hear.”

(High picture: Courtesy of League 42)

s.parentNode.insertBefore(t,s)(window, document,’script’,
fbq(‘init’, ‘207679059578897’);
fbq(‘track’, ‘PageView’);

Leave a Comment