Major League Baseball Takes Time to Remember a Trailblazer

We are a country that enjoys commemorating achievements in all shapes and sizes.

Some call it the American spirit while others might call it an attempt to ensure that the sacrifices of those that have gone before us are remembered long after they are no longer walking amongst us.

Memorials of all shapes and sizes can be found from sea to shining sea as a way of helping to ensure that history is not forgotten.

The number 42 hangs in all 30 Major League Baseball Ballparks in honor of Jackie Robinson who broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947. Photo R. Anderson

The number 42 hangs in all 30 Major League Baseball Ballparks in honor of Jackie Robinson who became the first African American to play for a MLB team on April 15, 1947 when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Photo R. Anderson

Tomorrow marks one of those occasions to remember history and honor those who have achieved against the odds.

Aside from being “Tax day” April 15 is also “Jackie Robinson Day” which a day sat aside to pay homage to an achievement of courage and determination in breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

While many fans may have only heard of Jackie Robinson following the release of the movie 42 his impact on the game of baseball stretches back nearly 70 years.

On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first African American to step foot on a Major League Baseball field when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The world of baseball for Jackie Robinson, and many other players like him, was far different from the world of baseball today.

I am not referring to jumbotrons and jumbo hot dogs or any of the other things that have found their way into the modern game. I am not even talking about the designated hitter.

Prior to 1947 there were no minority players in the highest level of professional baseball. It took an owner willing to do what others wouldn’t in Branch Rickey and a player willing to withstand insults from on the field and in the stands in Jackie Robinson to pave the way for those that came behind them.

Since 1997 when the number was retired players like Hunter Pence of the Houston Astros have all worn the number 42 on Jackie Robinson Day. Photo R. Anderson

Since 1997 when the number was retired players like former Houston Astros right fielder Hunter Pence have all worn the number 42 on Jackie Robinson Day.
Photo R. Anderson

For people of a certain age, like me, it is nearly impossible to picture a segregated baseball diamond. From my earliest recollections there were people of all shapes and sizes and races on the field.

Look at the rosters of the 30 MLB teams today and one will find players from six continents.

None of that would have been possible without someone taking the first step to desegregate the diamond.

So it is fitting to take time to honor Jackie Robinson’s sacrifice and to ensure that generations who were not alive back in 1947 can learn the story and know that without the sacrifices of people like Jackie Robinson the world would be an entirely different place.

One of my favorite quotes is “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It was first stated in the early 20th century by George Santayana, but the phrase is still as true today as it was when first spoken. Society must continue to learn from history so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

During the annual celebration of Jackie Robinson there are always a select few who will state in various outlets that the inclusion of Jackie Robinson in the Baseball Hall of Fame was based solely on him being first to break the color barrier and is not reflective of his playing ability.

For the first time since Major League Baseball ordered all teams to retire the number 42 in 1997 there are not any players who wear the number on any day other than Jackie Robinson Day.  Photo R. Anderson

For the first time since Major League Baseball ordered all teams to retire the number 42 in 1997 there are not any players who wear the number on any day other than Jackie Robinson Day. Mariano Rivera was the last player allowed to wear the number and he retired at the end of last season.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, a quick look at his career statistics show that based on the merits of his play alone Jackie Robinson is every bit of a Hall of Fame caliber player and is included as much for what he did as a player as well as what he did as a trailblazer.

As part of Jackie Robinson Day each player on every team wears the number 42 as a show of respect and solidarity.

In 1997 Major League Baseball retired the number 42 on all teams in honor of Jackie Robinson. As part of the number retirement players who were still wearing 42 were grandfathered in and allowed to keep wearing the number for the remainder of their careers.

Following Mariano Rivera’s retirement at the end of last season no player will ever again wear the number 42 in Major League Baseball.

It is likely that the Yankees will retire Rivera’s number as well based on his impressive body of work.  That will lead to the hanging of two 42 banners in Yankee Stadium with one for Robinson and one for Rivera. Then again the Yankees always did like to be a little different.

Fans gather during the 2011 Jackie Robinson Day at Minute Maid Park. Photo R. Anderson

Fans gather during the 2011 Jackie Robinson Day at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

While last year’s celebration of Jackie Robinson Day was marred by the cowardly act of the Boston Marathon bombers, this year the celebration can focus on the courage of Jackie Robinson along with the courage and determination of the bombing victims who have overcome their own set of odds since the events of last year.

Acts like the bombing of innocent bystanders at the Boston Marathon show that the world is still as full of hate today as it was on that April day in 1947.

But just as was the case in 1947, there are still people willing to rise above the hatred and do what is right. And that is something worth remembering every day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to watch 42 before the games start tomorrow.

Copyright 2014 R Anderson