No. 42 to return as baseball celebrates Jackie

All players and on-field personnel will don Hall of Famer's number

April 15th, 2016

Today marks the 69th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier, and once again, MLB and each of its 30 clubs are pulling out all the stops to celebrate the Hall of Famer's legacy.

On Jackie Robinson Day, all players and on-field personnel across the league will don No. 42 jerseys, as they have done each April 15 since 2009. The number is otherwise retired throughout baseball in honor of the former Dodgers great, who signed his first professional contract with the organization -- then in Brooklyn -- in 1945. Two years later, on April 15, he started for the Dodgers vs. the Boston Braves at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, batting second and playing first base.

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That was the start of a highly productive 10-year career for Robinson, who was already 28 when he broke the color barrier. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1947, the NL Most Valuable Player Award winner and batting champion two years later, and he made six All-Star teams while posting a career average of .311.

Robinson, who died in 1972, also will be honored by MLB with an increased financial commitment to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, as well as special on-field, pregame ceremonies in each ballpark hosting a game today. That includes at Dodger Stadium, where Rachel and Sharon Robinson, the wife and daughter of Jackie, will be guests for the game against the Giants, along with Hall of Famer Frank Robinson and Dodgers special advisor Don Newcombe, who played with Jackie in Brooklyn.

They will watch Dave Roberts, the first minority manager in Dodgers history, guide his club against San Francisco.

Jackie's legacy continues to push game forward

"I think I'm going to make a conscious effort tomorrow to really understand and take in the scope and magnitude," Roberts said Thursday. "It's a big deal. Jackie's obviously impacted me and many others, so I want to take some extra time to reflect for sure."

For the players on the field, wearing No. 42 is a valued opportunity to show their appreciation for the doors Robinson opened for future generations.

"It's definitely a representation of the courage that he had to do what he did. Without him, it affects everybody in this clubhouse -- not just the African-Americans," said Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison, a six-year veteran. "We wouldn't be playing with those guys if he didn't have the courage he did. It's definitely representative of his courage, and to take a day out to recognize him is special."

White Sox outfielder Austin Jackson, who remembers doing a research paper on Robinson while in elementary school, agrees.

"Obviously, it's a great thing that MLB does to really recognize and honor Jackie Robinson, and being able to see everybody with that No. 42 on their back really means a lot," Jackson said. "It hits home."

Tigers outfielder Justin Upton still finds that the day resonates with him, even in his 10th big league season.

"Obviously, when you reflect on it, it takes a different meaning," Upton said. "But every year, it's an honor to wear 42. In the relationships you build through the game, you know that you would never have the opportunity to do that without Jackie's sacrifices. It's a special day every year."

Rays ace Chris Archer, who started on Thursday, wished his scheduled outing could have coincided with the festivities, but he still plans to enjoy the occasion.

"The impact that he had on baseball is everlasting," Archer said of Robinson. "He changed this game. It's not only America's pastime now, it's like a worldly or a universal pastime because he opened up the doors for people of all races and all colors to play. Not just black Americans, but Dominican, Cuban, Asian. There's such an influx of cultures and ethnicities now, and it's all due to him."

Robinson's legacy is something that can be handed down through generations, too. That's the case for Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, whose grandfather taught him about Robinson at a very young age.

"My grandfather was a Dodgers fan," Sabathia said. "I think every African-American male growing up in that time was a Dodgers fan. He just talked about everything he went through. I grew up in Northern California and he was a Brooklyn Dodgers, L.A. Dodgers fan, because of Jackie."

Now Sabathia is passing on those lessons about a man he called "an American icon." He took his son to see the biographical film "42," which came out in 2013.

"He knew about the Negro Leagues and all that stuff before; he has a mural of Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson on the wall of his room," Sabathia said. "We started him early."

For some, today will bring a new experience.

The Brewers' Keon Broxton only debuted in the Majors last September, so this is his first chance to participate in a Jackie Robinson Day. The 25-year-old outfielder is looking forward to it, having watched them on television while growing up in Florida.

"I was like, 'Wow, this is actually going to happen,'" Broxton said. "This is my first time being able to wear that number, and it means a lot to me because I'm a black American, and he paved the way for all of us. Without him, I probably wouldn't be in this spot."

Braves rookie Mallex Smith is in the same position and said he is "stoked" for the opportunity, especially because of the Robinson stories he heard from his father and paternal grandfather while growing up.

"You always knew who Jackie Robinson was and you always wanted to be like him, even if you didn't want to play baseball," Smith said. "My dad always said, 'Make sure you wear your jersey with pride, because people before you made big sacrifices for you to be here.' So it's definitely been talked about once or twice in my house."

It's not just current players who will savor the chance to pull on a No. 42 jersey.

It also will mean a lot to Phillies hitting coach Steve Henderson, who debuted in the Majors 30 years after Robinson, in 1977, and played for 12 seasons as an outfielder. Henderson said he appreciates the sacrifices Robinson made and believes he would appreciate the efforts MLB has made to increase the sport's minority interest and participation, such as the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program.

"I think he'd be very proud," Henderson said. "Because of all the stuff he went through, and the number of Major League baseball players that have come through, and a lot of black players have come through here. And we're working hard to get more."