Baseball Needs To Do More To Honor The History of Jackie Robinson’s Uniform Number

Last weekend Major League Baseball, as it does one weekend every April, celebrated the player who Brownsville barrier in America’s pastime. In honor of Jackie Robinson, every person in uniform for all teams wore 42, the number he donned In his Hall of Fame career with the Dodgers.

It is a nice gesture but, after nearly a decade of the same idea, the wearing of his jersey digits has grown a bit stale. The Commissioner and the other executives of MLB need to find a more creative way to pay homage to Robinson’s legacy, which is all about diversity.

One simple idea would be to build on the current theme, the number forty two. Instead of just pointing out the accomplishments of that one player, baseball should give some mention to others who have worn it. That list has not only some of the game’s biggest stars, but also reflects the diversity of the sport today.

Among the most important of those is Curt Flood, whose fight for free agency made him every bit as much of a pioneer as Robinson. The former All-Star wore that number during his first season with the St. Louis Cardinals, after serving a year out of the game for refusing to accept a trade to Philadelphia.

Also on the list is the most memorable closer in the remarkable history of the New York Yankees, Mariano Rivera. Because it has been retired for every team, he will be the last player inducted into the Hall of Fame while wearing that number. The gifted reliever wore forty two for nineteen years, nearly twice as long as Robinson did.

Outfielder Dave Henderson, prolific slugger for Seattle, Boston and Oakland, wore it for fourteen seasons as well as in three different World Series stints. Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn wore it for fourteen years, and he was the last person to bat with 42 as his regular number.

When he faced Rivera on August 13, 2000, it marked the final time a pitcher and hitter both wore that number. Vaughn was playing for the Anaheim Angels when he came to the plate against Rivera in the eighth inning, and that routine fly out marked the last time 42 would retire 42 other than in the Robinson tribute game of today.

Long time veteran hurler Rick Mahler had it on his back for twelve years, establishing the record for consecutive Opening Day starts. Right hander Sonny Seibert, who spent most of his career with Cleveland and Boston, acquired more victories (142) than any other hurler with those digits on his uniform.

Chicago White Sox first baseman Ron Little was the only other player to be selected as Rookie of the Year while having a four in front of a two on his shirt. Bruce Sutter is one of just a few members of the Hall of Fame who regularly wore forty two, which was on his jersey when he pitched for both thE Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.

By recognizing the variety of players who once shared Robinson’s number, baseball could espouse the diversity it has achieved since the color barrier was broken.

write by Jon Brecht