By Dan Cook, WCCO Radio
Have you ever been to Target Field and were asked by a youngster: “Who was number 42 and why is it a different color than the rest of the Twins retired numbers?”
If so, you understand why in 2004, Commissioner Bud Selig retired Robinson’s number 42 across Major League Baseball, and named April 15 “Jackie Robinson Day,” making it an annual tradition.
On April 15, 1947, Jack Roosevelt Robinson became the first African-American to appear in a Major League baseball game. He’d go on to appear in 1,382 games, collect 1518 hits, score 947 runs, and drive in 734 more. He won the MVP in 1949, and he was named to the All-Star team six times.
But no game in his career was more important than when he manned first base at Ebbets Field as the Brooklyn Dodgers hosted the Boston Braves back in April of ’47. His final line read: 0-for-3 with a run scored, but by merely stepping on the field, he changed the game – and, in a sense, American society – forever.
Dodgers owner Branch Rickey had been interested in integrating the game for a while, but wanted to make sure he found the right player – in both skill and temperament – before attempting it. When he met Jackie Robinson, he knew he had his man.
Robinson dealt with slurs and epithets from fans, and even worse from opposing players. But he never retaliated, and never allowed people to think that they’d gotten to him. To have slipped up, even for a moment, wouldn’t have stopped the integration of baseball, but it would’ve set it back by years, if not decade or more.
It’s difficult for people today to fully understand the kind of pressure he was under, and that’s one of many reasons it’s so important to celebrate this day. The grace and class he displayed paved the way for players like Larry Doby, Dan Bankhead, Satchel Paige and the hundreds and hundreds of African-American players who followed him.
So on Sunday, the 65th anniversary of that historic day in baseball, players and coaches from both the Twins and Rangers all wore number 42. Sure it was a pain for broadcasters and statisticians, but for every youngster in the stands who asked why everyone was wearing 42, and got to hear the story of Jackie Robinson, it was 100 percent worth the trouble.
More Jackie Robinson info:
You can see the boxscore to Jackie’s first game in the Major Leagues here
MLB.com’s coverage of Jackie Robinson Day can be found here
The Jackie Robinson Foundation’s website with more information on the inner-city programs it sponsors can be found here