Jackie Robinson Day
15 April, 2007
So today Major League Baseball celebrates the 60th anniversary of its integration. If you don’t know the story, yet would like to call yourself an American, go read about it ASAP.
At the 50-year mark, MLB retired the number 42 for all teams, but apparently Ken Griffey Jr. had the idea for players to honor Robinson today by wearing 42. The idea has spread around the league and morphed into either “one dude on your team wears the number,” “a few dudes on your team wear the number,” or everyone on your team wears the number.” Personally, I prefer the last of these options, and think the position stated by the Twins’ Torii Hunter in the article — that it somehow dilutes the tribute to have too many people wear the number — is ridiculous. If only one or a few players get to wear #42, it’s then about those players — but it should be about Robinson himself. Here’s a shout-out to the teams that are all wearing #42 today:
Astros: All players
Brewers: All players
Cardinals: All players
Dodgers: All players
Phillies: All players
Pirates: All players
(Ahem. All National league, thankyouverymuch.)
I’m glad I don’t have tickets to any such games, because seeing 18 or 22 guys (if the coaches wear it too) all wearing #42 would make me ridiculously choked up. Things DO change here. Just ask Don Imus. Call me an idealist and/or a moderate, but it’s nice to pause every now and then from the struggle and take a measure of how far we HAVE come. Yeah, I know the changes are incremental (“with all deliberate speed”), often oddly motivated (women and the Civil Rights Act of 1964), and often have harmful unintended consequences (affirmative action and black students’ self-confidence). But as a member of a group that benefitted from the last century’s civil rights advances, it’s my opinion that one should take what one can get and turn it to one’s advantage, even if the motives of the givers are suspect. Half a loaf, and all that.
One suggestion I heard last season sometime about what to do with #42 is to begin a Jackie Robinson award for…I dunno how to phrase it, some sort of public antidiscrimination service/work undertaken by a baseball player or coach. It needn’t be awarded every year, just when the league/voters felt someone deserved it. Said person would get the honor of wearing 42 for the year. As nice as a day of remembrance like today is, that seems a deeper one: a daily reminder of the debt we owe to those who came before. Of course I’m also the person who thinks the DC baseball team should have been named after a Negro League team. But I guess more influential folks feel that systematic racism wasn’t SOOOOO bad of a sin that we need to be reminded of it every freaking DAY.
(OTOH, perhaps such measures would fade into the background. Hmm.)
Here’s an even more community-minded idea for honoring Robinson, from Forbes magazine. Maybe the league could honor the player who gave the most money to this fund with the right to wear #42. Even more interestingly, they could honor the player who gives the highest percentage of his salary, which would give a better chance for a younger player still under salary caps to give back and get recognition.