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Cleats left behind after Jackie Robinson statue was stolen to be donated to Negro League Museum

Jackie Robinson statue stolen
Posted at 10:40 AM, Feb 25, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The bronze Jackie Robinson cleats that were left behind when a statue of the first player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier was stolen from a Kansas park are being donated to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Thieves cut the statue off at its ankles last month, leaving only the feet behind at McAdams Park in Wichita. About 600 children play there in a youth baseball league called League 42. It is named after Robinson’ s uniform number with the Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom he broke the major leagues’ color barrier in 1947.

Bob Lutz, executive director of the Little League nonprofit that commissioned the sculpture, said the museum in Kansas City, Missouri, was “enthusiastic” about incorporating the cleats into its display on Robinson.

The display also includes a damaged plaque honoring Robinson. The sign was erected in 2001 outside the birthplace of Robinson near Cairo, Georgia. Community members there discovered last year that someone had shot the plaque multiple times.

“It’s kind of sad in its own way, that we’re building this little shrine of Jackie Robinson stuff that has been defaced or damaged,” said Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “But it gives us an opportunity to speak to who he was, the characteristics and value of what he represented, even in the face of adversity. And that message really never goes out of style.”

Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, paving the way for generations of Black American ballplayers. He’s considered not only a sports legend but also a civil rights icon. Robinson died in 1972.

Fire crews found burned remnants of his statue five days after the theft while responding to a trash can fire at another park about 7 miles (11.27 kilometers) away. One man was charged this month in the theft. Police said there was no evidence it was a hate-motivated crime, but rather the intent was to sell the metal for scrap.

Donations poured in after the theft, totaling around $300,000, Lutz said. The amount includes a $100,000 gift from Major League Baseball.

Lutz, whose friend, the artist John Parsons, made the statue before his death, said the mold is still viable and anticipated that a replacement can be erected within a matter of months. He estimated it would cost around $45,000 to replace the statue itself. While there also will be security and lighting expenses, that leaves lots of extra money that can be used to enhance some of the league's programming and facilities, Lutz said.

“It’s just amazing how many people are interested in this story,” Lutz said.