Mets welcome Rachel Robinson: 'Jackie's presence is right there with her'

April 16th, 2024

NEW YORK -- Butch Huskey was mostly unaware what would happen that night in 1997, when, in the fifth inning at Shea Stadium, play suddenly stopped. Onto the field walked Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, flanked on either side by President Bill Clinton and Major League Commissioner Bud Selig.

In the middle of an otherwise normal baseball game, those three announced that Robinson’s No. 42 would be retired throughout Major League Baseball.

As this was happening, Huskey caught someone’s eye in the dugout and said, “I’m probably not going to be able to wear this number anymore.”

Ultimately, that did not wind up being the case; because MLB allowed players wearing No. 42 at that time to continue doing so until their retirements. Huskey kept it for most of the rest of his career. Along the way, he became friendly with Rachel Robinson, who worked tirelessly to keep her late husband’s memory alive.

Monday, on the 77th anniversary of Robinson breaking MLB’s color barrier and the 27th anniversary of universally retiring his No. 42, 101-year-old Rachel Robinson returned to Citi Field to take part in a series of pregame festivities. Huskey was among those thrilled to see her.

“Just to be in her presence, knowing that Jackie’s presence is right there with her, is enough for me,” Huskey said. “Just to be able to hug her and say hello, and how you doing, that’s quite a bit.”

Huskey, who played for the Mets from 1993-98, so revered Robinson as a high school student in Oklahoma that he wrote a book report on him. As a young player, Huskey told himself that if he ever made the Majors, he would wear No. 42 as well.

“To be able to put the number on my back, to get the OK to wear it, and then have Mrs. Robinson’s blessing to wear the number, there’s not much more you could ask for,” he said. “Playing at the professional level is the highest level, but to get something like that bestowed on you, it makes it that much more special. … It makes you play a little bit harder.”

These days, Huskey coaches youth baseball, with a hope of helping smooth the path for underprivileged children to play at a high level. He attended Jackie Robinson Day at Citi Field in 2022 and was back on the field on Monday, as Rachel Robinson received a bouquet of flowers from him, fellow Mets alumnus Mookie Wilson and current manager Carlos Mendoza.

“You could make a case that this is one of the most important people in history,” Mendoza said. “Not only for this country, but for the world. Not only what he did in sports, but what he did for the African-Americans. And for a person like me, a Latino person, I don’t know if [without] what he did I’d be sitting here today.”

In addition to Monday’s on-field ceremony, the Mets hosted a Black Legacy panel featuring rappers and recording artists DJ Webstar and Mims, which was attended by Queensboro College students. The Canaan Baptist Youth Choir sang the Black national anthem, while Renee Neufville of the R&B group Zhane performed the national anthem.

Fourth-year Harvard University student Olusola Babalola, a Jackie Robinson Scholar, was also recognized on-field.

“It’s a great day,” Huskey said. “I don’t know if players today, or even myself, could have done what he did. It’s a special talent -- not just the talent to be able to play at a high level, but for what he experienced on a daily basis of going to hotels and not being able to eat with his teammates, just going through the [rigors] of everyone being against him. That’s the ultimate.”