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Celebrating history with No. 42

Major League Baseball marks the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the game's color barrier by bringing back his No. 42 for one day.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published April 15, 2007


Major League Baseball marks the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the game's color barrier by bringing back his No. 42 for one day. It was retired a decade ago. Fifty players and coaches and five entire teams will wear No. 42 today. The celebration of Robinson's debut at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers is tempered, however. While participation by black players reached a high of 27 percent in the mid 1970s, it declined to 17 percent in 1997. Only 9.2 percent on this season's opening day rosters are African-American.

The roster

Here are the major-leaguers who will wear No. 42 today:

Arizona: Orlando Hudson, Tony Clark, Eric Byrnes, Chris Young, Scott Hairston, Bob Melvin, Lee Tinsley

Atlanta: Andruw Jones

Baltimore: Corey Patterson

Boston: Coco Crisp

Chicago Cubs: Jacque Jones, Cliff Floyd, Derrek Lee, Daryle Ward

Chicago White Sox: Jermaine Dye, Harold Baines

Cincinnati: Ken Griffey

Cleveland: Josh Barfield, C.C. Sabathia

Colorado: LaTroy Hawkins

Detroit: Gary Sheffield, Curtis Granderson, Craig Monroe, Marcus Thames, Lloyd McClendon

Florida: Dontrelle Willis

Houston: All Astros

Kansas City: Reggie Sanders, Emil Brown

L.A. Angels: Gary Matthews

L.A. Dodgers: All Dodgers

Milwaukee: Bill Hall

Minnesota: Torii Hunter, Rondell White, Jerry White

N.Y. Mets: Willie Randolph

N.Y. Yankees: Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano

Oakland: Milton Bradley, Shannon Stewart, Tye Waller

Philadelphia: All Phillies

Pittsburgh: All Pirates

St. Louis: All Cardinals

San Francisco: Barry Bonds

San Diego: Mike Cameron

Seattle: Arthur Rhodes, Jason Ellison

Tampa Bay: Carl Crawford

Texas: Ron Washington

Toronto: Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas, Royce Clayton, Mickey Brantley

Washington: Dmitri Young

By the numbers

.311 Lifetime batting average by Robinson.

2 Major-league teams without an African-American on the roster (Astros, Braves)

5 African-Americans on the Devil Rays' opening day roster, the most of any team (Carl Crawford, Delmon Young, B.J. Upton, Elijah Dukes, Edwin Jackson).

8.4 Percentage of African-Americans in the majors, according to a 2006 study of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at UCF, down from 27 percent in 1975.

12 Years for the last of the 16 major-league teams to integrate (Boston Red Sox, 1959) after Robinson's debut in 1947.

19 Career steals of home by Robinson.

124 Total RBIs in Robinson's NL MVP season of 1949.

Rays outfielder Carl Crawford, 25, sat down with Times staff writer Eduardo A. Encina to talk about wearing No. 42 and what has happened to the black baseball player.

So what's it like to be picked to wear No. 42?

Just with the history of Jackie Robinson, more so than that, they picked you to do it. That's something special when they pick you to do something like that. It's cool. It's an honor to wear the jersey. I'm happy I was the one picked to wear it. ... I don't know if I'm really worthy of it, but I'm going to try to represent it the best way I can.

I know you've talked a lot about wanting to learn more about the history of the game. How have you done that?

Well me, I'll just go on the Internet a lot, you know. I can be watching something on the history of baseball on TV and see names, and I'll just go type those guys' names and just learn everything about them.

Have you ever seen the clip of Jackie Robinson stealing home in the '55 World Series?

Oh, yeah, I saw that. It was nice. A lot of people still debate whether he was safe or out, you know, but yeah, I saw that.

Going along with the theme, a lot has been mentioned about the declining number of black players in the game. You go to a lot of field dedications out in the community here. What do you see? Are black kids still playing ball now?

I see them playing. It ain't the same like when I was young, I don't think. I've been talking about this a lot. It's just different now, I guess. I don't know. They're not interested in baseball.

So you don't think there's the same interest anymore?

I mean, you have a few, but it's not the same. When I was younger, I played in a whole black league. And I'm talking about at least 50 teams. I don't think you'll see that anymore.

You hear stories now about not having enough kids to make up a whole team.

Exactly. I don't know why it's like that. That's the way it is.

I guess that shows how it's changed that quickly, because you're talking about you growing up and you're not an old guy. You're only 25.

Yeah, it's not. It's a while ago, but you would have thought it would have only grown. But it hasn't. It's like a dead flower.

So why is it?

Well, I don't know. I've been in the minors and the majors, but I just think the interest isn't what it should be. I don't think they know the benefits of playing baseball, all the good that comes out of it.

How it started

Ken Griffey Jr., then playing for Seattle, switched his No. 24 to No. 42 on April 15, 1997, to honor Robinson's 50th anniversary. That day, commissioner Bud Selig announced No. 42 would be retired throughout baseball and never again would be issued to on-field personnel. Players wearing No. 42 were allowed to keep it, and the Yankees' Mariano Rivera is the only one still wearing No. 42 on a regular basis. Wanting to honor Robinson again, Griffey, 37, called Selig to ask for permission to wear it tonight. "He told me he had to make a couple of phone calls, then he got back to me later on in the day," the Reds outfielder said. "He asked if I wanted to be the only one, and I said, 'No, this is something everybody can do.' "

Honored to take part

Angels centerfielder Gary Matthews is honored to take part in Jackie Robinson Day. He said that when he enters a stadium for the first time, one of the first things he does is try to spot the 42, which is displayed at each venue. "When you think about Jackie Robinson, you think about not just what he did for baseball, but what he meant for our society," said Matthews, 32. "When I think about it in those terms, it's so much bigger than baseball. I'm flattered they asked me."

Every Dodger

For the nationally televised game against the Padres tonight, every Dodger will wear No. 42. "Jackie Robinson was a Dodger," team president Jamie McCourt said. "The most fitting tribute the Dodgers can pay to him is for our entire team to wear his number."

Dressing the part

Only one Padres player, outfielder Mike Cameron, will wear No. 42. Cameron, 34, said he also will wear baggy pants to honor Robinson. "He laid the groundwork for me to get a chance to get out here and show my talent and be able to help this club," Cameron said. On the number of African-Americans in the game, Cameron said: "Brothers are (nearly) extinct in the game."

Passing the torch

Diamondbacks reserve and 14-year veteran Tony Clark, 34, was the natural pick to wear No. 42, but he asked Orlando Hudson to wear it instead, telling the 29-year-old second baseman: "That number needs to be on the field."

"It's beyond making an All-Star Game," Hudson said. "It's beyond winning a Gold Glove. It is beyond 500 homers. It's a chance to wear the number of the first black who ever got to (play) in a white man's game at that time.

"I just want to steal home," Hudson added, smiling.

Six other Diamondbacks, including Clark, will wear No. 42.

Lost meaning

Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter was one of the first to jump on board, but said that with so many wearing Robinson's number, it takes away from the day. "This is supposed to be an honor and just a handful of guys wearing the number," Hunter, 31, told USA Today. "Now you've got entire teams doing it. I think we're killing the meaning. ... It should be special wearing Jackie's number, not just because it looks cool."