Negro Leaguer Jim Robinson, Toyota & MLB Celebrate 100 Years of Black Baseball

This baseball season was supposed to be a centennial celebration for the Negro Leagues. The coronavirus has shut the stadium gates to the fans and dampened the spirits of the people, but it hasn’t lessened the impact of a league that was started by African-Americans with a love for a sport that excluded them from participating with whites until 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. 

Coaches, players and managers all wore a patch with a logo commemorating the occasion during Sunday’s games.

The stadiums are still empty, but the games are being played and we get a chance to celebrate today’s Black Knights like Mookie Betts, Michael Brantley, George Springer, Tim Anderson and Josh Bell (to name a few) as integral parts of a lineage birthed by segregated superstars such as Jim Robinson, one of the last living former Negro League players. 

If COVID-19 wasn’t so intrusive, Jim would undoubtedly be making his rounds throughout MLB today. Live interviews and a multi-stadium tour most likely. 

Legendary names such as Rube Foster, Buck O’Neil, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, Toni Stone, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, Connie Morgan, Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron, all contributed to making the Negro Leagues — which was founded in Kansas City, Missouri on February 13, 1920 — a viable business organization with talent exceeding that of the segregated MLB. The League produced some of the greatest players that the sport has ever seen.

Toyota & Negro Leagues Baseball

In celebration of an iconic moment in American history, Toyota is also paying tribute to 100 years of Negro Leagues Baseball in the latest creative as part of the marketing campaign for the all-new 2020 Toyota Highlander.

Filmed partly at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, the commercial, titled “Home Team,” was created and produced by Burrell Communications Group and will begin airing today (March 30).

To view the 90-second video featuring behind-the-scenes footage and interviews from the “Home Team” commercial shoot, check it out here

“We are truly delighted that Toyota has chosen to honor the unsung heroes of the Negro Leagues this way,” says Bob Kendrick, President, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “The passion, determination, and unwavering spirit from these individuals is truly an American story.”

“The formation of the Negro Leagues in 1920 was a watershed moment in baseball and American history,” Kendrick told The Shadow League, and we look forward to collaborating in a league-wide show of solidarity to commemorate this game-changing milestone.”

Living Legend: Jim Robinson

Living baseball legend James “Jim” Robinson, former captain of the Kansas City Monarchs, is featured as the “family patriarch” on the spot.

Jim and his family take a trip down memory lane at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum where his love for the game comes to life. The reminiscing continues as the family hops into their all-new Highlander and travels to where it all began, complete with a standing ovation to honor the impact Jim and his fellow teammates left on the sport.

“‘Home Team’ is yet another inspiring piece of work from our ‘GO HIGHLANDER’ campaign,” says Joe Moses, general manager, Toyota vehicle marketing and communications, Toyota Motor North America. “We are honored to celebrate this pivotal moment in history in a touching spot that celebrates America’s favorite pastime.”

Toyota commemorated the Negro Leagues Centennial with a private brunch and panel discussion at the historic Apollo Theater, currently celebrating its 85th anniversary back in February.

Moderated by ESPN/ABC News correspondent Ryan Smith, the panel featured Jim Robinson; Corey Seaton, vice president and creative director, Burrell Communications Group; and Craig Payne, executive program manager, product development office, Toyota Motor North America.

Jim honed his baseball skills on the sandlots of Morningside Park, right in the heart of New York City. In the summer, his team would join other players in Central Park and play baseball for hours on end.

There aren’t many Negro League players still walking the earth. Robinson is a jewel, an American icon that bridges the last century of baseball’s multi-layered journey. He represents the struggle of past athletes of color who have risen above racism and opened the floodgates for the millions of dollars being made now. Negro League players like Jim Robinson laid the foundation and had the talent, but never got to enjoy the fruits of their labor as MLB players.

Robinson played his college baseball career at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro NC.  His early Negro League career includes stints with the Newark Eagles, where he played alongside eventual MLB stars Monte Irvin and Larry Doby.  Jim also barnstormed with the Indianapolis Clowns.

Robinson’s flex on the Negro League field eventually led to him signing a minor league contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. 

Unfortunately, he was drafted into the US Army in 1953 and sent to Korea. When he returned to the states his MLB opportunity was gone and he rejoined the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs and shined as a shortstop.

Toyota has been a trendsetter when it comes to motor vehicles and Robinson continues to be an ambassador for baseball around the globe. Both are hanging in and representing a brand of excellence, consistency and durability even as the world endures these tough times.

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