April 15, 2008
I love Jackie Robinson Day. Today marks the 61st anniversary of Mr. Robinson crossing the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers and I think it's a rare historical happening in that the magnitude of the moment rings just as loudly today. For how many other events can you say the same? Last year, I was lucky enough to be in the Reds' clubhouse when Ken Griffey Jr. saw six No. 42's in his locker. He said he got goosebumps just looking at the jerseys hanging there. Know what? I did, too.
That's why I don't want to see this new tradition of wearing Robinson's number every April 15 devolve into an annual debate of who should be donning the tribute and who shouldn't. Already Torii Hunter's remarks about the sheer number of participating players and coaches (330 in '08) have caused a mini-controversy and today shouldn't be about that. It shouldn't be about discussing why some teams have only have a handful of players participating while nine whole squads are wearing No. 42 elsewhere.
So here are two solutions I'll present for '09 before bringing the focus back to where it should be — honoring Jackie Robinson.
1) The Dodgers should be the only team to wear No. 42 as a whole. Standing in unity loses its power when only nine of the 30 teams wear the number across the board. Allowing Branch Rickey's team the sole honor seems much more powerful than having the whole A's team wear No. 42 while playing the White Sox, who have only six men participating in the tribute.
2) Make wearing No. 42 a special honor. Every other club should reserve Robinson's number as an annual special honor for a deserving player. Since the modern day multi-cultural clubhouse can consist of a few islands of closed-off cliques (white, black, Latino), let the players vote on the teammate that best bridges that divide, no matter his color. Special consideration should be given to players who work to help remember the Negro Leagues or work to bring baseball back to the inner city.
Sure, those are two simple changes, but ones that should be made. Nothing wrong with adding a little more meaning to an already meaningful day, is there?