In 1960, Robinson supported Hubert Humphrey, the liberal Senator and civil rights stalwart from Minnesota, in his campaign for president. When John Kennedy won the Democratic nomination, however, Robinson shocked his liberal fans by endorsing Richard Nixon. Robinson believed that Nixon had a better track record than JFK on civil rights issues, but by the end of the campaign—especially after Nixon refused to make an appearance in Harlem—he regretted his choice.
During the 1960s, Robinson was a constant presence at civil rights rallies and picket lines, and chaired the NAACP's fundraising drive. Angered by the GOP's opposition to civil rights legislation, he supported Humphrey over Nixon in 1968. But he became increasingly frustrated by the pace of change.
"I cannot possibly believe," he wrote in his autobiography, I Never Had It Made, published shortly before he died of a heart attack at age 53 in 1972, "that I have it made while so many black brothers and sisters are hungry, inadequately housed, insufficiently clothed, denied their dignity as they live in slums or barely exist on welfare."
In 1952, five years after Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, only six of major league baseball's 16 teams had a black player. It was not until 1959 that the last holdout, the Boston Red Sox, brought an African American onto its roster. The black players who followed Robinson shattered the stereotype—once widespread among many team owners, sportswriters, and white fans—that there weren't many African Americans "qualified" to play at the major league level. Between 1949 and 1960, black players won 8 out of 12 Rookie of the Year awards, and 9 out of 12 Most Valuable Player awards in the National League, which was much more integrated than the American League. Many former Negro League players, including Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Don Newcombe, and Ernie Banks, were perennial All-Stars.
But academic studies conducted from the 1960s through the 1990s uncovered persistent discrimination. For example, teams were likely to favor a weak-hitting white player over a weak-hitting black player to be a benchwarmer or a utility man. And even the best black players had fewer and less lucrative commercial endorsements than their white counterparts.
In the 16 years he lived after his retirement in 1956, Robinson pushed baseball to hire blacks as managers and executives and even refused an invitation to participate in the 1969 Old Timers game because he did not yet see "genuine interest in breaking the barriers that deny access to managerial and front office positions." No major league team had a black manager until Frank Robinson was hired by the Cleveland Indians in 1975. The majors' first black general manager—the Atlanta Braves' Bill Lucas—wasn't hired until 1977.* * *
Last season, players of color represented 38.2 percent of majo- league rosters, according to a report by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. Black athletes represented only 8.8 percent of major-league players—a dramatic decline from the peak of 27 percent in 1975, and less than half the 19 percent in 1995. One quarter of last season's African-Americans players were clustered on three teams—the Yankees, Angels, and Dodgers. Their shrinking proportion is due primarily to the growing number of Latino (27.3%) and Asian (1.9%) players, including many foreign-born athletes, now populating major league rosters.