COMMENTARY | Monday, April 15 marks the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut in the major leagues. All players and other on-field personnel will don No. 42 for that day's games as part of a program begun in 2009 by Major League Baseball to recognize Robinson.
For New York Yankees relief ace Mariano Rivera, it will be just another day at the ballpark. Rivera has worn No. 42 since making his major-league debut for the Yankees on May 23, 1995, when he started against the California Angels.
Yes, started. Rivera's first eight big-league appearances were starts; he didn't move to the bullpen full-time until 1996 and didn't become the Yankees' closer until the following season.
On April 15, 1997, to mark the 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut, commissioner Bud Selig announced that the number was to be retired in perpetuity (per The New York Times). But the 13 players, including Rivera, who were currently wearing No. 42 were allowed to continue wearing it until the end of their careers.
It just happens that Rivera is the last of the 13 still active in the majors.
Some of the others who sported No. 42 at the time it was retired were Boston Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn, New York Mets utilityman Butch Huskey and San Francisco Giants left-hander Kirk Rueter.
Six of the players, including Rueter, changed uniform numbers at the end of the 1997 season.
When Vaughn retired in 2003, it left Rivera as the last No. 42 in baseball. All of the others had either left the game or had changed uniform numbers along the way.
Rivera told The Times earlier this spring that he tried to do the number proud.
"I carried the legacy of Mr. Jackie for all these years and I tried to do my best to wear No. 42 and do it with class and honor," Rivera said. "Being the last player for us to wear No. 42 is a privilege."
Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson, told ESPNNewYork.com last month that she was proud that Rivera would be the last to wear the hallowed number and that he did it justice.
"He carried himself with dignity and grace," Robinson said. "And that made carrying the number a tribute to Jack."
Rivera became a revered figure in the game, breaking the all-time record for saves and becoming the best reliever, and arguably the best pitcher, period, in postseason play. And he did so with a grace and dignity that befits the legacy of No. 42.
"Mariano is a wonderful player," Rachel Robinson said. "He's taken his place on the team in series ways but also in graceful ways. I'm very pleased with what he's done and I'm always a little sad when someone who's accomplished so much retires."
Yankee fans will know that sadness this fall when Rivera's Enter Sandman entrance-music is silenced.
Phil Watson is a freelance journalist and commentator based in upper Michigan who covers the New York Yankees for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
- Sports & Recreation
- Mariano Rivera
- Jackie Robinson
- New York Yankees