On Baseball | Put No. 42 back on field

Posted: April 08, 2007

Major League Baseball did something great and noble when it retired Jackie Robinson's famous No. 42 a decade ago.

Now, with the 60th anniversary of Robinson's arrival in the majors a week away, baseball should seriously think about un-retiring the number.

Not for one day. For good.

Next Sunday, 60 years to the day after Robinson debuted at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, baseball will permit one player from each team to wear No. 42 in honor of Robinson.

Ken Griffey Jr. came up with the idea, received the OK from the commissioner's office, and soon baseball was encouraging every team to have one of its players wear the number in tribute to Robinson for a day.

Mets Manager Willie Randolph was so enthusiastic about the idea that he half-jokingly said he'd fight anyone for the number. Every member of the Dodgers, Robinson's old team, will wear it for a day.

Jimmy Rollins will wear it for the Phillies. Derrek Lee for the Cubs, Torii Hunter for the Twins, Coco Crisp for the Red Sox and Orlando Hudson for the Diamondbacks. All are African American. All know the significance of the honor.

"I wouldn't be here without Jackie Robinson," Lee told Chicago reporters. "It's my way of saying thank you."

Hudson, the always colorful Arizona second baseman, usually wears No. 1.

Next Sunday, he'll really wear No. 1, so to speak.

"Jackie Robinson is a guy who not just African Americans but everybody should admire," he told Arizona reporters.

"It's beyond making an All-Star Game. It's beyond winning a Gold Glove. It's beyond 500 homers. It's a chance to wear the number of the first black who ever got to do it in a white man's game at that time.

"I just want to steal home."

Who says present-day big-leaguers don't appreciate the past? Robinson was known for that daring, bygone play, and it's nice to see that Hudson has an appreciation for it.

Now back to the retiring of Robinson's number. Baseball did that in April 1997. Mariano Rivera and Mo Vaughn were allowed to continue wearing it because they had established themselves with the number on their backs. Vaughn would have fought anyone who tried to take it away from him. He wore the number in honor of Robinson long before baseball even began thinking of ways to mark the 50th anniversary of Robinson's arrival.

Rachel Robinson was so touched by Vaughn's remembrance of her husband that she wept when she heard about it and hugged Vaughn when she first met him.

Robinson's number hangs in tribute in every big-league stadium. Usually, it hangs somewhere beyond the outfield wall with a team's other retired and honored numbers. That's just the point. In most stadiums, Robinson's number 42 blends in with the greats who've played in a particular city. Isn't it time that baseball put No. 42 back in circulation with the strict provision that a team assign it only to an African American player with a strong appreciation for Robinson and his accomplishments?

Having that number on the back of a thriving, hard-charging player (like No. 42 himself) might be a more fitting way to honor Robinson than having it hang on an outfield wall.

Don't misunderstand. It should still stay on the wall. That block, blue Brooklyn No. 42 should be displayed in every stadium as long as major-league baseball is played. But it should be out on the field, too, as long as it's on the right person's back.

It has to go to someone for all the right reasons, not just because it's the number they wore when they rushed for three touchdowns in the championship pee-wee football game. If that's a player's best reason for wearing 42, it should stay retired on that team.

We'd bet most every team would have a player who'd want to wear 42 for all the right reasons.

How great would it look every day on the back of Ryan Howard, the winner of the 2005 Jackie Robinson National League rookie-of-the-year award? Or maybe Rollins would want to wear it every day. He occasionally wears a No. 42 Brooklyn throwback jersey around the Phillies' clubhouse. Why not extend his personal tribute out onto the field so people can see No. 42 and be reminded of its significance during the game, not just when they're gazing out beyond the outfield walls between innings?

What better way to honor Jackie Robinson than by having his old No. 42 kicking up dust and getting dirty every day?


Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury

at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com

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