Monday, April 15, 2019

FenwayNation's International Editor On The Legacy Of Jackie Robinson Day

by Mark Lawrence, FN International Editor

Sydney, Australia—As every red-blooded citizen of Fenway Nation knows, the 2004 season was most definitely One For The Books. That year was choc’ full of baseball history alright with long, tall Randy Johnson tossing the 17th perfect game in MLB history in May and notching his 4000th strikeout just a month later.  Ken Griffey, Junior joined that elite 500 Homer Club in June and Greg Maddux tallied win number 300 in August. And don’t forget Ichiro—securing the Single Season Hits record with 262, snapping George Sisler’s eight-decade record of 257. And of course, there was that underdog team from The Fens who managed to break a little bit of a drought with Boston’s first World Series win in 86 long and tortuous years. It was, to be sure, a wonderful year – but then again, what baseball season isn’t? 2004 was different, though—in March of that year, Commissioner Bud Selig had something to say and I’ll paraphrase it here:

"I have often stated that baseball's proudest moment and its most powerful social statement came on April 15, 1947 when Jackie Robinson first set foot on a Major League Baseball field.  On that day, Jackie brought down the color barrier and ushered in the era in which baseball became the true national pastime. By establishing April 15 as 'Jackie Robinson Day' throughout Major League Baseball, we are further ensuring that the incredible contributions and sacrifices he made — for baseball and society — will not be forgotten."

Seven years earlier, MLB had retired Jackie’s number across Major League Baseball—the first time that a professional athlete had been so honored. And, as everyone knows, the last player to wear 42 was first-ballot Hall of Famer, Mariano Rivera. But it wouldn’t be until the start of the 2007 season that players would honor Jackie by wearing his number on his day. Ken Griffey, Jr asked for—and received—permission from Rachel Robinson to don the famous number for Jackie’s Day.  Bud thought this was a pretty good idea and actively encouraged all the other Major League clubs to have at least one player wear 42 on Jackie Robinson Day as well.

And it took off big time.

But not without a little controversy.  A few of the boys thought that hundreds of players wearing 42 was a tad too much.  Tori Hunter remarked that wearing the number was supposed to be an honor.  “Just a handful of guys should be wearing the number. Now you’ve got entire teams doing it.  I think we’re killing the meaning.” That big old pitcher, Carsten Charles Sabathia said, “It kinda waters it down – I could see the Dodgers doing it since they were his team, but not everyone else.” Ken Griffey, Junior – who had started the whole thing in the first place – hadn’t expected so many other players to take up the idea: “I didn’t know so many guys planned to wear the number.  I sure wasn’t expecting whole teams to wear it.  But I’m not gonna look at it as a negative.  It’s a tribute to what the man has done and a day to celebrate.” And Garret Anderson of the Angels showed just how much the whole number 42 thing really meant.  Garret said he wasn’t going to wear 42 on Jackie Robinson Day. “I just don’t think I’m worthy of it,” he said. 

I can’t remember what the year was, but the date was certainly April 15th and the non-baseball gal I was attempting to pal up with at the time came over to the Bachelor Pad to watch the game. After a while, she noticed something about the players.     

“Hey! They’re all wearing the same number!  How does that work??”

So, I told her about Jackie Robinson. And not just the baseball stuff, either.  She slowly shook her head in amazement at what Number 42 had endured and what he’d achieved in that unfairly short life           

“He must’ve been one hell of a man,” she said.

Yes, he was. And as long as the boys are all wearing that famous number on that one day in April, Jackie Robinson’s tremendous legacy will never be forgotten.