Jackie Robinson Day: Why Wear 42?

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13: Russell Martin #55 (L) of the New York Yankees gives his teammate Mariano Rivera #42 (R) the ball after he pitches a save against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on April 13, 2011 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Orioles 7-4. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

SB Nation Houston covers Jackie Robinson Day by asking why entire teams are wearing No. 42.

Jackie Robinson Day is one of the most important days on the Major League Baseball calendar. It's not too often that a person exudes a message that everyone and anyone should get behind, particularly when it causes that person to become the object of much adversity and scorn. In honor of Robinson's achievements on an off the field, Major League Baseball universally retired No. 42 for every team in the game. Some players who were wearing the number were grandfathered in, such as Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera, but it's off-limits as a jersey number asides from that.

...And asides from Jackie Robinson Day, where almost all teams wear No. 42 on the back of their jersey in an event that confuses box scorers and fans alike. This is, like the recent playing of God Bless America at games, a rather recent tradition. Ken Griffey Jr. asked Robinson's widow Rachel for permission to wear the number in 2007, 

Since then, 42 has spiraled out of control on Jackie Robinson Day. Commissioner Bud Selig encouraged a player from each team to wear it in 2007, and now we've reached the point where almost every team wears the jersey for the day. Don't get me wrong--Robinson deserves every bit of praise that he gets and his day should be about honoring him as much as possible--but this offends the common senses for me. For one thing, it turned Griffey's gesture into something profoundly unspecial.

More importantly, we've got a retired number that magically unretires every year. Is Robinson's legacy greater than the game? Yes. I don't want to downplay what he went through at all, but none of the other retired numbers get that kind of treatment. Even baseball's prominent black players think it's kind of tacky:

"This is supposed to be an honor, and just a handful of guys wearing the number. Now you've got entire teams doing it. I think we're killing the meaning. It should be special wearing Jackie's number, not just because it looks cool." -- Torii Hunter (USA Today)

Of course, if you do that you run into problems with who gets to wear it and who doesn't. It would be interesting if baseball would just let those who want to wear the number wear it as a personal tribute. As it is now, it's an interesting diversion for the day, but one that can ultimately prove quite confusing for the common fan.

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