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April 17, 2011

Wezen-Ball

The #42 Question

by Larry Granillo

On Friday, Major League Baseball celebrated the eighth annual Jackie Robinson Day, honoring the sixty-fourth anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut in the major leagues. As has been the custom since 2009, every uniformed player, coach, and manager involved in games Friday wore Jackie's #42 as their jersey number for the day. With all 30 teams active on Friday, this means 750 players and roughly 100 more coaches all took the field with "42" on their backs.

It's a gesture that seems to have missed its mark with some fans. Reading opinions from any number of outlets on Friday - whether they be newspaper columnists, sports websites, Twitter, respected blogs, bulletin boards & forums, and more - the sentiment is strong, if not overwhelming: seeing entire teams wearing number 42 is overkill and it dilutes the honor. After all, if someone is forced to do something, the "honor" in it is diminished.

Players did not wear "42" for the first few years on Jackie Robinson Day. In 2007, Ken Griffey, Jr., asked Commissioner Bud Selig for special permission to wear "42" as a personal salute to Robinson. Selig liked the idea so much that he invited players on all teams to wear the jersey number if they so chose. It was a popular idea in clubhouses, with 150 players and coaches wearing the number. The next year, even more players chose to honor Robinson in the same way, with a number of teams electing to wear "42" as a whole. Selig then took the next logical step and made the gesture a league-wide part of the Jackie Robinson Day festivities.

Not even the players have been completely behind the league-wide rollout. Griffey, Torii Hunter, CC Sabathia, and others were vocal about it from the start, saying that having so many players wearing the number "waters it down." So why does Major League Baseball continue with this tradition if neither the fans nor the players like it?

The problem is that everyone is looking at the gesture from the wrong point of view. Players and fans both seem to take the individual's point of view that's something along these lines:

"This tradition started because Ken Griffey wanted to do something special for Jackie Robinson. It was a genuine, profound gesture from Griffey. When others who felt the same way as Griffey heard about it, they wanted to do it too. It was meaningful to these players. Now that the teams and then the league are *mandating* players where the number, it is no longer meaningful, it is no longer personal. It's no different than the little MLB logo on the back of their caps, or the stupid red caps on the Fourth of July. The emotion is gone and, thus, the honor."

From that point of view, it's hard to disagree. But it's not the point of view that Bud Selig was seeing things from when he made the rule. The Commissioner's point of view is much closer to that of a team honoring a recently passed legend. There is no consternation in Cleveland over the team forcing every player to wear a Bob Feller patch this year or in Los Angeles with the Duke Snider patch (or Detroit and Cincinnati with Sparky Anderson, or Pittsburgh with Chuck Tanner, or Seattle with Dave Niehaus). In both cases, the organization is foregoing any individuals acts and choosing to show their honor for the particular individual on an organization-wide level.

There are a few reasons why Jackie Robinson Day feels different. The first is simple - it's nature as a single-day, league-wide event. All of that focus and attention from all thirty teams makes the issue a standard topic of discussion and impossible not to form an opinion on. The fact that a jersey number is a much more overt form of expression than a jersey patch doesn't help either. That doesn't mean the act is any different, though.

But the biggest reason seems to be everyone's dislike of Bud Selig. The Commissioner is not the most popular of figures in baseball and his motives are often questioned. When he makes a controversial and potentially political decision like the Jackie Robinson Day uniforms, it's easy to be cynical and find fault with the act.

I don't know the Commissioner any more than the next guy, so I can't speak for his true intentions. Maybe they are as bad as we think.That doesn't make the actual act on the field a terrible thing. Major League Baseball created Jackie Robinson Day to honor the legacy of a great man and to do their best to foster remembrance and discussion about Robinson. A large, visible act like every major leaguer wearing "42" for a single day is a great way to do that. Yes, it makes scorekeeping difficult and takes away from any personal acts specific players might want to do, but those are minor issues next to fostering an awareness for Robinson to a new generation. (Now, if you're in the camp that believes that Major League Baseball is taking its glorification of Robinson a little too far, that's a different discussion.)

The fuss over the Jackie Robinson Day festivities keeps growing every year. I do understand where it comes from, but I just can't agree. A single day where all 750 major leaguers unite to remind the millions of baseball fans, from age 95 to five, of the importance of Jackie Robinson isn't a bad idea. It could probably be turned down a notch or two, but that has little to do with the Florida Marlins all wearing #42. Let's, instead, enjoy the day and do our best to remind the new generation of everything Jackie and his fellow groundbreakers (Larry Doby, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, and everyone else) did for the game and the country. It's much more productive than making jokes about #42 pitching to #42.

Related Content:  Jackie Robinson

15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Squirrelmetrix

Last year, it seemed like there were multiple days where the players wore #42 on multiple days. One day is a great tribute to JR. More than one day is unnecessary, though.

Apr 16, 2011 23:04 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

I'm pretty sure that was because April 15 fell on a Thursday last year and not every team was active that day. So, in order for every team to wear "42" for a day, they had to wear them the next day...

Yesterday, for example, the Braves and Mets wore "42" because their game had been postponed on Friday night.

It does feel a bit weird to see it on consecutive days, even if each team only wore it once...

Apr 17, 2011 09:31 AM
 
iddscoper

I certainly like the idea of honoring Jackie Robinson, but I pretty much agree that mandating every player in the game to wear his number is a little much. First of all, the argument about diluting the honor does have some merit to it, and beyond that, it can be genuinely confusing while watching the game. I think instead of everyone doing it, there should be one designated honoree per team who gets to wear 42 for the day. In addition to keeping the honor without going overboard, it could allow for additional festivities - teams could choose a player to honor, maybe have a little ceremony before the game. I think this would be an excellent alternative to several hundred players all wearing one number at the same time.

Apr 17, 2011 06:53 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Your idea for each team honoring one individual is a good one. I like it.

My question is about "diluting the honor" (and I don't ask just you, but everyone who agrees): why does that dilute the honor? Are they diluting the honor in Cleveland with the Bob Feller patch? What if, say, Travis Hafner had wanted to wear #19 for a game but never asked because they already had the patch? Isn't it the same thing? And couldn't the argument be made that, by increasing the visibility of #42 for that one game, MLB is elevating the honor from just a few people to the whole organization? It's much more visible and creates much more discussion for Jackie that way.

I'm not gung-ho in favor of the idea or anything. I just think that there's plenty of good reasons to do what they're doing, but people aren't realizing it because they're looking at it from the wrong point of view.

Apr 17, 2011 09:35 AM
 
Llarry

How about the Dodgers all wearing 42 on 4/15, and then the next day, all the other teams wear the numbers of their first black players. (We could time them in order that the teams each integrated, but let's not make a current organization pay for what a previous owner may have done...)

Apr 18, 2011 17:42 PM
rating: 0
 
heyblue

Paraphrasing an interesting anecdote that Vin Scully told on Jackie Robinson day last year (or was it the year before?):

Heading into Cincinnati, the Dodgers had received a serious threat that Jackie would be shot by a sniper while on the field of play were he to be in the lineup. It was a serious enough threat that armed police were all around the stadium and the Dodger team was understandably anxious before the game. The mood was dour and tense. Pee Wee Reese spoke up just before gametime:

"I got an idea," Reese said. "Why don't we all wear number 42, that way they won't know which guy to shoot?"

That broke the tension and the game went on without incident. Of course, none of the Dodgers, Pee Wee or Jackie included, could have ever envisioned a day where every player on every team wore #42 in Jackie's honor.

Apr 17, 2011 08:24 AM
rating: 4
 
BrewersTT

One advantage of having everybody wear 42 is that no one will be asking anyone why they chose not to.

Apr 17, 2011 08:38 AM
rating: 1
 
devine

Yeah, I think it pretty much has to be everyone, or else you get lots of "why didn't ________ wear it? These players are IGNORANT of HISTORY!" flack.

Apr 18, 2011 09:24 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie

Leo Durocher in his autobiography credited some other Dodger, nondescript such that I forget who, with the "let's all wear it!" quip.

Sigh. They always take the credit away from us small guys.

Apr 17, 2011 16:09 PM
rating: 0
 
Dan W.

Pee Wee Reese isn't a small guy?

Apr 18, 2011 10:32 AM
rating: 0
 
Alex Canzoneri

I don't really care about all the consternation over dilution; the main reason I don't like the "everyone everywhere with 42" is that when I am watching a game or highlights, I like to be able to know or figure out which player I am watching. Having unnamed jerseys with the same number is to defeat the entire purpose of having numbers. This isn't like a Bob Feller patch; it makes watching the game (marginally) more inconvenient.

Apr 18, 2011 08:03 AM
rating: 0
 
Paul Mahler

We were at the A's game on the 15th, and in about the 6th inning, the guy sitting next to me said - "how can #42 be warming up again?" Oops.

Apr 18, 2011 09:18 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

To me, there's almost nothing we could do that is too much in terms of honoring Robinson

Apr 18, 2011 19:32 PM
rating: 2
 
jnossal

I just gotta know, what day will Bud have all the players wear Curt Flood's number?

May 03, 2011 11:25 AM
rating: 0
 
jhardman

Every player who signs a free agent contract in baseball should be required to donate 1% to Flood's family. If the players "uniformly" honored Flood in the same way baseball mandates the Robinson uniforms, wouldn't that cause quite the scene?

I'm also in the camp that Jackie Robinson is the single most important player in modern baseball history. But I think Curt Flood is the second.

May 06, 2011 13:11 PM
rating: 0
 
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