Jackie Robinson Day is almost here, and there are few designated sports days that have as much significance. Of course, Robinson was the first black baseball player in the Major Leagues. He was scouted and recruited from the Kansas City Monarchs and the Negro Leagues by Branch Ricky. After a year with the Montreal Royals in the minors, he broke through with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and had a Hall of Fame career.
Robinson was the guinea pig for colored athletes in the Major Leagues. But he was also the knight in shining armor. Had Robinson not done as well as he did in both performance on and off the field, other teams would have been very reluctant to take a chance signing black athletes. There is a great depiction of Robinson in the movie 42 which shows the adversity he and his team dealt with during his first year in Brooklyn.
One of the iconic moments in the movie is during a game in Cincinnati when Pee Wee Reese goes over to Robinson before the start. He puts his arm around Robinson and tells him that, “maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear 42, that way they won’t tell us apart.” That statement became reality in 2004 when Bud Selig initiated Jackie Robinson Day on April 15th, the day of Robinson’s Major League debut. For the past five years, players and coaches have all worn the number “42” as their jersey number on that day in honor of him and what he contributed to the game of baseball.
Teams that do not play on April 15th typically wear the Robinson jerseys the day after. It is a sign of respect for Robinson and the game of baseball as a whole. The number 42 is retired by all of baseball now, with Mariano Rivera having been the last player to wear the number every game of the year. He was grandfathered in and allowed to continue to wear 42 after the number was retired from all of Major League Baseball. Since Rivera is now retired, April 15th will be the only day that anyone dons the number.
Robinson paved the way for not only black athletes but all non-white athletes as well. Hispanic players, Asian players, and all other ethnicity types are now embraced for their talent and not discriminated against for their skin color. Baseball may be the most diverse professional sport there is, and we will get the chance to honor Robinson and how it got to be this way in two weeks.