On April 15, we will once again have the treat of seeing the famous #42 on the backs of all Major League Baseball players. Number 42 holds a special place in Major League history; it is the number that the Hall-of-Fame legend Jackie Robinson wore when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947-1956. MLB retired #42 in 1997; the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera still wore it from that point, but since he has now retired, no one else will – except on Jackie Robinson Day each year.
April 15, 1947, was more than just the debut of a great player. It was a day that changed history and set the stage for some of the best players in Major League history: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson, and so many more heroic ball players. African-Americans were not allowed in the Major Leagues until Jackie Robinson debuted, and the Majors missed out on more legendary players such as Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson before then.
Jackie Robinson did not have an easy time. He promised Dodgers owner Branch Rickey that he would say nothing about the heavy – and often brutal – scrutiny that he received for his first two years. This scrutiny included verbal and even some physical abuse such as getting intentionally spiked by runners.
Robinson let his play on the field do his talking for him. For his 10-year career, he hit .311 with 137 home runs and 734 RBI in 1382 games. He also had an on-base average of .409 and stole 197 bases, leading the league in 1947 (29) and 1949 (37). He won the first-ever Rookie of the Year award, made six N.L. All-Star teams, and won the 1949 MVP award.
Robinson had perhaps his finest moment in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series. He stole home, just beating the tag of Yankee catcher Yogi Berra. I have seen the video many times, and even as a Yankee fan, I say Robinson was safe. The Yankees won Game 1, but the Dodgers won the Series in seven games, the only title the Dodgers ever won in Brooklyn.
Robinson left the game and the world far too early. He refused to play for any other team, so he retired after an early 1957 trade. He continued to represent opportunity for African Americans in not just baseball but in every aspect of life in America. He peacefully campaigned for equal rights and opportunities for all Americans regardless of race. He passed away in 1972 at age 53 from heart failure due to complications with diabetes, but his legend will live eternally.
Jackie Robinson was not just a great baseball player. He was a great American and a great man. Major League Baseball pays a tremendous tribute to him when all players wear his #42 every April 15, Jackie Robinson Day.
Baseball Reference, Jackie Robinson Player Page , baseball-reference.com
Bio, True Story, Jackie Robinson, biography.com.