No. 42 jersey tribute began in 2007 with Griffey
Then with Reds, Junior first player granted permission to wear Jackie Robinson's number
CHICAGO -- It's become an expectation that all Major League uniformed personnel wear No. 42 to pay homage to the most-respected player to ever wear that number -- Jackie Robinson -- on the day baseball pauses to pay homage to the legendary pioneer of social change.
But the genesis of the 42 movement began in the days and weeks before the Reds and Cubs played on Jackie Robinson Day on April 15, 2007, at Wrigley Field. Then Cincinnati's right fielder, Ken Griffey Jr. asked then-Commissioner Bud Selig and Robinson's widow, Rachel, for permission to wear No. 42 on what was the 60th anniversary of Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
"I just called Bud and asked him if I could do it," Griffey said back in 2007. "[Selig] made a couple of phone calls and said yeah. We had a good conversation. It was about me wearing it on that day, and only that day."
:: Jackie Robinson Day | Civil Rights Game ::
Rachel Robinson gave her approval, and not only did Selig like Griffey's idea, he encouraged other clubs to have their players wear No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day. A couple of years later, every player on every club wore that number for one game only.
"He should be an inspiration not only to baseball players but to anyone who fights prejudice and hatred," Griffey said of Robinson at the time.
In that 2007 game, Griffey was the lone Red to wear 42, while six members of the Cubs also wore it. They stood together at home plate during the pregame ceremonies. Griffey also wore No. 42 once before with the Mariners, on the 50th anniversary of Robinson's historic debut.
It so happened that on Jackie Robinson Day on Wednesday, the Reds and Cubs were again meeting at Wrigley Field.
Reds left fielder Marlon Byrd certainly appreciated the yearly opportunity to don No. 42 for the tribute it represents.
"Being able to wear the number and you understand he's the reason I'm playing," Byrd said. "All the minorities in the game can say that, even Asian players. Without him, the game probably wouldn't have been integrated. Maybe at some point it would have happened, but it happened with him and he did it right. It's great that we can honor him like this."