Last Call for Number 42
It’s been 16 years since Jackie Robinson’s number 42 was unilaterally retired by Major League Baseball in recognition of the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s debut as the game’s first African-American player.
Robinson’s number 42 is the only one afforded such exalted status. Not even Babe Ruth’s number 3 or Hank Aaron’s 44 have been officially de-activated on the field.
Every April 15th since 1997 baseball has acknowledged Robinson’s legacy with “Jackie Robinson Day” celebrations in major league ball parks across the country, when every player on every team gets to wear 42, just for one day.
Recent MLB All-Star game MVP Mariano Rivera is the last active player entitled to wear Robinson’s number 42 regularly. Players like Rivera, who had already worn the number at the time it was retired were allowed to continue wearing it for the duration of their careers. Rivera’s teammate, All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano was actually named after Robinson, and also wears Robinson’s numbers 4 and 2 albeit in reverse (24) as a means of tribute.
Rivera has already announced that this will be his and the number 42’s last season and has spoken about the significance of wearing Robinson’s number on numerous occasions.
“Jackie Robinson was a great man,” Rivera said before a game against the Baltimore Orioles this past April.
“I have always said that wearing this number is a privilege and a great responsibility and to represent what Jackie represented for us, as a minority, and for all of baseball in general, it’s tremendous. For me, it’s just a privilege to wear and to try to keep that legacy. It makes me want to be at my best. And that’s what I tried to do my whole career.”