Monday, April 15, 2013

The magic and determination of "42"

[caption id="attachment_15448" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Today, we honor number 42 for changing baseball forever Today, we honor number 42 for changing baseball forever[/caption]

Outside of baseball, 42 is a random number. It could be an age or how much of something one person possesses.

But in baseball, 42 takes on a whole new meaning.

42 was the number that belonged to none other than Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947 for the Brooklyn Dodgers (now known as the Los Angeles Dodgers). And because of Jackie Robinson, baseball is what it is today.

Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia on January 31, 1919, the youngest of five children. When he was a high school student, he took up multiple sports ranging from track-and-field, football, tennis, basketball and most importantly of all, baseball. He was the shortstop and catcher on his school baseball team, quarterback on the football team and guard on the basketball team. It was no secret that Jackie Robinson was an athletic individual but he would face challenges that gave him a whole new perspective on the game.

When Robinson enrolled in Pasadena Junior College, he made the baseball team. He was the lead-off man and the shortstop but most importantly, most of his teammates were white. Robinson developed his combativeness towards racial antagonism when he was arrested in 1938 after he vocally disputed the detention of a black friend to police. Robinson was hit with a two-year suspension and after his brother Frank Robinson was killed in an automobile accident, he transferred to UCLA to be closer to Frank's family.

Like other ball-players in the early 1940's, Robinson was in the Army although he was never sent overseas. He served as an army athletics coach until he was honorably discharged in 1944. It was then when a former player of the Kansas City Monarchs suggested that Robinson write a letter to the Monarchs co-owner Thomas Baird to ask for a tryout. And that's exactly what Robinson did. He received an offer in 1945 from the Monarchs to play for their ball-club. The contract was $400 ($5,101 in 2013 dollars) per month, and Robinson couldn't say no.

While Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs, few major league teams were interested in adding a black player to their ball-club. The Red Sox were one of the first teams to show interest, although it was later revealed to be a farce, and were the last team to integrate their roster fourteen years later. The team that showed the most interest in Jackie Robinson--the Brooklyn Dodgers, run by Branch Rickey. Rickey interviewed Robinson, and in a famous three-hour conversation, questioned whether or not Robinson could control his tempter against racial antagonism.

 "Are you looking for a Negro who's afraid to fight back?" Robinson was aghast.

 "No." Rickey replied. "I need a Negro player with guts enough not to fight back."

Robinson agreed to turn the other cheek and on November 1, 1945, Robinson was signed to a minor league contract, beginning the 1946 season with the Montreal Royals.

In 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers purchased Robinson's contract, making him their opening day first baseman. He didn't have a base-hit his first game, but walked and scored in the Dodgers 5-3 victory. Robinson was received generally positive, although mixed with newspapers and white major-league players. However, there was racial tension in the Dodgers clubhouse. Players would sign petitions and order they wouldn't play unless Robinson didn't, but Dodgers managing wouldn't have it. Robinson was here to stay.

He also faced racial discrimination among other teams, some teams targeting Robinson physically during games. With the antagonism and despair, most players would have given up. But not Jackie Robinson. Robinson had support from players such as his own teammate Pee Wee Reese, who put his arm around Robinson's shoulder in response to the racial slurs Robinson was receiving during a game in Cincinnati. Pee Wee Reese once famously said these words:

 "You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them."

At the end of his rookie season, Robinson's line was .297/.383/.427, earning him the award for Rookie of The Year.

After nine years with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson retired from baseball, but his impact on the game will forever be imprinted on the number Robinson wore the last nine years: number 42.

On April 15, 1997, Major League Baseball universally retired the number 42, although players that already had the number would be grandfathered in, allowing them to keep the number until the day they retire. Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera is the last player to wear the number 42. Rivera considers it an honor, and is thankful for what Jackie Robinson had done for baseball.

 "Jackie Robinson was a great man." Rivera told ESPN over the weekend during the Baltimore Orioles series at Yankee Stadium. "I have always said that wearing this number is a privilege and a great responsibility. To represent what Jackie Robinson represented for us, as a minority, and for all of baseball in general, it's tremendous."

To the Yankees, Jackie Robinson represents a lot. If  Jackie Robinson didn't have the courage or strength to do what he did, we wouldn't see players such as Curtis Granderson, Mariano Rivera, CC Sabathia or Robinson Cano on the roster--or in the Major Leagues.

 "As a baseball player, number 42, without it, I'm not here talking to you." Curtis Granderson said during an interview with "42 has done amazing things for not only Africans-Americans...but for the globalization of the game."

 "The way he handled himself was unbelievable." Cano, who pays homage to Jackie Robinson by wearing 24 (the reverse of number 42) said. "I don't know if I would of had the same courage he had back in the day. That's somebody that we truly learn from. Not only fighting for ourselves but look how he opened the doors for everybody. Look how different is baseball today. It's not about one country, it's about one world. "

 "Doesn't matter where you came from, doesn't matter what your background is. Your effective impact moving forward is the way that your life should be, and that's what Jackie did." Granderson said. "He came from where he was, he broke through the barriers, continued to move in and we still continue to talk about his name now and we will continue to talk about his name forever."


  1. First time I ever saw Jackie was in the 1947 WS, I really didn't understand all the fuss being made about him.
    He was a big, fast and (I'll say it again) very instinctive player, you know...just like Jeter. As a 10-year-old, I didn't understand how those attributes tied in to his playing so fact, I didn't understand what they were, until later in life.
    I do remember all the names being called out to him, but I must say, the Yankees handled the games with the class of the Yankees; no hard tags, no spikes up, no close shaves at the plate. Later, I read, there were one or two guys that were very much against him being allowed to play with the White Folks but, they played as Yankees always do...with class!
    All baseball players should be proud of Jackie, without him doing what he did, how could one player be the best ever, if he never played with some of the best? Orange, blue, pick the is the man, not the color!

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience Ken. Whenever I watch movies about jackie Robinson and hear stories, I wonder how much is embellished/exageratted. Were players really trying to hurt him and what not?

    It's hard to imagine baseball without all of the Black and latino players. While Black players have diminished to only about 8% in today's game, Latino players make up around 25% of the league. Adding players from different parts of the World and from different cultures and backgrounds makes for a more diverse and exciting game today. One of the cool things about the WBC was watching how some foreign teams play and have fun together.

    Ken - Did you ever see Satchel paige pitch? I guess if you did he was probably close to 50 years old by then. but there are some amazing stories about him as a Pitcher and an Entertainer.

  3. Oh yah, I had many, many stories about "The Old Man"! Yes, I did see him many times, he came up with the Cleveland team in the late "40s and the old St. Louis Browns. Later he was called up by KCA so as to be eligible for baseball retirement money.
    He was called by Babe Ruth, Joe D, C.Mathwson, Dizzy Dean and many the greatest Pitcher they had ever seen.
    I believe you all have heard of the greatest hitter of all time, Josh Gibson "The Black Babe Ruth" (only better).
    As the story goes (without my notes), Josh and Satch had many run ins, well nobody knows who was the winner of these meeting, and Satch got tired of being asked who was better so, when asked he said something like; "Next time I face him, I will load the bases and strike him out with 3 pitches!"
    Anyhow, to make it as short as my memory, A game came up where Satch did just that. Ok, ok, Late innings of the game, bases empty, Satch stands on the mound and tells everyone what he was going to do! Satch walks the bases full and up come "Big Bad Josh" Satch says to him, "3 fastballs down the middle you are out" (about). Satch winds up and throws 3 fast ball strikes down the middle and strikes him out.
    Guys like John Pop Lloyd, called the "Black Wagner" to which Wagner said, "It is an Honor to be compared to him.
    They were great players in their leagues and against the Major league winter Team which was made up of the best the Majors had to offer they showed very well, so much so that the white guys said many times most of the bigger named players could play and be stars in the bigs. Bad thing is, it took too long for it to be open to them, so the fans got to see a 41-58 year old Satch, not the greatest pitcher ever!

  4. Ken - There was a good movie called "Soul of the game" with Delroy Lindo as Satchel and Blair Williams as Jackie Robinson. I watched it about 10 times....perhaps you can tell me how accurate it was.

    The jist of the movie was that Satchel and Josh Gibson were BY FAR the 2 best Black players in the Negro Leagues. They were showmen and kept the Negro league alive....Satchel would often pitch on multiple days for different teams! They would trade him to a team for a week that was struggling with attendance. There were rumors that MLB would take a black player and everyone figured it would be Satch and/or Gibson. They were about to play a game against the MLB All-Stars to see who would go to the Majors but it gets rained out! Branch Rickey ends up taking a young player from Satchels KC Monarchs team named Jackie Robinson. They took him not because he was the best player but because of his education and the way he carried himself. They said Satchel was too old and too much of a showboat (because he was paid to be) and that Gibson was crazy (he suppossedly was in and out of mental hospitals).

    Did Gibson really have mental issues? I know he died at just 35 because of a brain aneurysm.....was that related?

  5. fishjam...
    I must have been out of the country, at the time that move came out. I can't comment on the move but, I can comment on the points you have brought up;
    True, they were the prize of the league, as for Josh being nuts...never heard a word of it...but, one must remember, he was a catcher and in those days they got banged up a lot.
    Satch pitched in back to back games many times, in fact to many times...he hurt his arm and was out of baseball one year. In the early days Satch threw nothing but fast balls or as Babe Ruth, Lou G, and Joe D said; "Nothing but Gas".
    After Satch came back, he was a much better pitcher. He had always had perfect C&C so, he added some other pitches to his arsenal (a lot of pitches). He still had his fast ball but, he didn't use it as much.
    If one were to try looking up Satch's pitching record....wast of time....the records were few and far between. The league was not big on keeping them.
    Oh, a little side bar! After going 0 for 5 against Satch, The Babe said, I don't get paid to stand there and see 3 strikes go by. And I think he never had another at bat against Satch.
    Where Josh and Satch the best ever, those that faced them have said; "With out a doubt"!

  6. kEN.....

    Amazingly, you can watch the entire movie on YouTube. Check it out if you have 90 minutes. It was an enjoyable movie, probably a little overdone for TV but here's the link:


Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)