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Jamie Foxx pitches in, joins MLB’s efforts to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day

Oscar and Grammy winner threw out ceremonial pitch before Phillies-Mets game

It’s almost as if Jamie Foxx had gotten a sneak peek of the list of questions for his scheduled Undefeated interview before Monday night’s New York Mets-Philadelphia Phillies matchup. Before the interviewer could even get the question out, about the dearth of African American players in Major League Baseball, the multitalented Oscar and Grammy Award winner jumped in to finish the reporter’s thought and offer his answer.

“I had a conversation with [ESPN baseball analyst] Tim Kurkjian about it, and I said, ‘Listen, what are we doing wrong? As a young kid growing up in Terrell, Texas, watching Dave Henderson, Rickey Henderson, Willie Stargell, Mr. October, what do we need to do? For a guy like me, who was a kid who played baseball in the summer, baseball was exciting. It was great to see everybody participate — black players, white players — and I’m just wondering, what is it now that we need to do to get them excited about playing baseball?’ ”

The numbers are particularly startling in the year that MLB is commemorating Jackie Robinson’s 100th birthday: MLB has an African American population of only 7.7 percent, and there are 68 African American players among the total of 882 players on Opening Day rosters, injured lists and restricted lists.

Hearing the numbers again, Foxx paused before making a point about access, suggesting that the responsibility is on MLB to turn the tide. “Sometimes when you don’t get an opportunity to see … when they don’t bring it to you, whether it’s camps and things like that to get you [kids] about it,” said Foxx, who won an Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of Ray Charles in the 2004 biographical film Ray. He threw a ceremonial first pitch in a pregame ceremony that celebrated Robinson’s birth at Monday’s series opener in Philadelphia.

Far from just a casual baseball fan, Foxx has participated in MLB All-Star events for seven years, often showing off his glove and baserunning in MLB’s celebrity softball games. Last July during the All-Star Legends & Celebrity Game, Foxx made a decent outfield catch while doing an interview with announcers in the booth, telling them, “It is routine out here.”

When asked if he felt that Robinson’s legacy and impact on sports has gotten lost on generations that followed him, Foxx said he refuses to go there.

“You have to take yourself back to that time and think about the amount of courage that it took for Jackie Robinson to do what he did,” said Foxx, who was the voice of Robinson for a 2016 PBS four-hour documentary, in which he read excerpts from the former Brooklyn Dodger’s newspaper columns, personal letters and autobiographies. “These were dangerous times. This could have blown up in their faces, but for them to have the courage and for him to still perform at a high level, you have to give kudos to him because that sparked a revolution.”

Mark W. Wright is a Charlotte-based sports journalist and documentarian.