Today is Jackie Robinson Day (and Tax Day) and throughout Major League Baseball, all players will be wearing the Robinson’s league-wide retired #42 to honor his impact to the game.
Unlike this celebration in years past, there has been little promotion and hype for the event. Has it lost its meaning already?
When the league honored Robinson in 1997 by retiring his number throughout the league, I thought it was one of the best ways to honor a man that broke the color barrier in baseball. All teams would have some display in their parks that honored his retired number. It was a great gesture.
Then it would later be mandated that all players would annually don the #42 to continually honor Robinson.
At first, the idea seemed pretty unique. But then it ran into some problems.
Back in 2007, wearing the #42 on Jackie Robinson Day was actually optional. As you can tell by this photo, there is a Robinson decal on the batting helmet of Marco Scutaro yet he and some of his teammates didn’t wear #42.
And when the ruling was enforced in following years, it just became hard to figure out who was on the field.
I’m all for honoring Robinson but this seems forced now. Has it gotten to the point where there is no need for promotion because it’s now just another thing on the schedule? What should baseball do to keep Robinson’s name alive?
Here’s what I think they should do. They need to eliminate the league-mandated day of wearing his retired number. To retire someone’s number, that means that nobody can wear that number again. Having a day where that rule is broken doesn’t work.
Robinson’s goal when he came into the league was to have people look beyond his skin color. He didn’t copy any of his white teammates to blend into the mix. He simply was himself. He handled himself graciously and because of that, became hero in the game of baseball.
So instead of today’s players being forced to copy Robinson by wearing his number, they should just go onto the field as themselves wearing their own number.
The best way to honor Robinson is to act as if we’re all the same but still uniquely different. That’s what uniforms are now. The names on the front tell us that everyone is equal. The name on the back says that we’re also all very unique.
After all, just looking at the different players on the field already reminds us of what Robinson did for the game.
A simple way to handle Jackie Robinson Day is to have a simple celebration before the game. Nothing too fancy, and nothing over the top. The meaning of the great day doesn’t get lost. It’s quick and impactful — just how Robinson played the game.