Sculptor encaptures Robinson's fearlessness in Dodger Stadium tribute
By Richard Justice
From the beginning of the process, sculptor Branly Cadet wanted an image of Jackie Robinson stealing home during his rookie season with the Dodgers. He thought it captured how the man lived his entire life, both symbolically and literally.
Something else Cadet thought was important: the beginning of a stolen base. In that way, he could capture both Robinson's fearlessness and the symbolism of the hard work still ahead.
Cadet's finished work -- a bronze Jackie Robinson, eight feet tall, with cleats up and arms outstretched -- will be unveiled Saturday afternoon at Dodger Stadium on the 70th anniversary of his breaking baseball's color line.
Dodgers owner Mark Walter initiated the project -- the first sculpture ever at Dodger Stadium -- on Jackie Robinson Day in 2015. Jackie's widow, Rachel, and children, Sharon and David, will attend the ceremony. Hall of Famer Frank Robinson will also be there, along with Dodgers icons Tommy Lasorda, Sandy Koufax, Vin Scully and Jaime Jarrin.
For Cadet, the project has been a labor of love, both in researching Jackie Robinson's remarkable life and in seeking input from members of Robinson's family.
"Just meeting the family was a great honor," Cadet said. "As an African-American, I feel they are a family whose actions and choices have made an impact on my life. It's not every day you actually meet the people who are on the front line of those kinds of social changes.
"I certainly knew Jackie Robinson had broken the color line in baseball. I didn't realize he'd been an activist before his baseball career. In the military, he was a leader. After baseball, he became involved in politics and various civil rights causes."
Rachel Robinson opened her treasure trove of photographs to Cadet, but it was his idea to make the depiction of Robinson stealing home plate during his rookie season.
"I thought it captured Jackie Robinson's significance in American history," Cadet said. "It takes courage and focus and timing to steal home. Similarly, those qualities were required of anyone breaking the color line. My title was 'Stealing home and the point of no return.'
"He was a first. We wanted to represent him in an earlier part of his career when the color line was broken. Historically, that's what was most important. The day he stepped on that baseball field was an important day, not just in baseball, but in American history. We wanted to honor that."
The Dodgers will place the 800-pound finished product at the Left Field Reserve Plaza entrance, which is used most games by nearly 20 percent of fans -- the highest percentage of the 13 entrances.
"You have both the ceremonial and grand views of downtown Los Angeles in one direction and Elysian Park in the other," said Dodgers senior vice president of planning and development Janet Marie Smith.
Three of Jackie Robinson's most memorable quotes will be embedded in the base of the statue to tell a fuller story of the man's social activism. Interestingly, when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962, he asked that his plaque refer only to his playing career.
Robinson died in 1972, and his plaque was rewritten in 2008 to reflect the totality of the man's contributions to both baseball and to being a critical figure in advancing the American civil rights movement.
"He was in his 40s when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame," Smith said. "He was still a young man. His baseball career may have been over, but he was still a young man. His place in history may not have been known at that time. The family permitted the Hall of Fame to alter the plaque, and our goal was to honor both aspects of his life.
"Our goal was to both celebrate Jackie as an athlete and to acknowledge the important role he played in civil rights and social change in America."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.