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Major League Baseball honors Jackie Robinson in annual tradition

On Friday, April 15, Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day. The day honors and commemorates the legacy left by Jackie Robinson, the league’s first African American player, who made his debut on April 15, 1947, playing first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The MLB began to celebrate Robinson  in 2004 under former commissioner Bud Selig. 

“I have often stated baseball’s proudest moment and its most powerful came on April 15, 1947, when Jackie Robinson set foot on a Major League Baseball field,” Selig said. “On that day, Jackie brought down the color barrier and ushered in an era in which baseball became a true national pastime.”

The MLB celebrates the day annually by having all players, coaches, managers and umpires wear Robinson’s retired number, 42.

Orchestrated by former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, the number 42 was retired by the entirety of the MLB on April 15, 1997, prohibiting anyone from wearing the number 42 ever again. Robinson’s number is the only number in the history of sports to be retired by an entire league. 

“The number 42 belongs to Jackie Robinson for the ages,” Selig said.

2022 marks the 75th anniversary of Robinson’s debut breaking the color barrier. In celebration, every player and coach will take the field in the number 42 as usual, but the number will be in Dodger blue regardless of team primary color. 

Robinson’s wife, Rachel Robinson, released a statement on the tributes for the 2022 season and the 75th anniversary of her husband breaking the color barrier. 

“Our family is thrilled to see so many wonderful tributes to Jack’s historic moment,” Robinson said. “We will continue to honor his memory and legacy through his work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation. We are proud to have Major League Baseball and so many other supporters of the young men and women we impact each year.” 

Robinson ended segregation for professional baseball at 28 years old. Robinson won the MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947 and went on to win an MVP in 1949 and lead Brooklyn to a World Series championship in 1955. Retiring after the 1956 season, Robinson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962 as the first African American inductee. 

After Robinson, four more African American players made their debut. Larry Doby, Hank Thompson, Willard Brown and Dan Bankhead all played in the MLB in 1947. At the time of Robison’s retirement, 6.7% of MLB players were Black.

On the first Jackie Robinson Day, festivities honoring Robinson took place in 13 ballparks and commemorative “42” baseballs were used in the games. Robinson’s daughter, Sharon Robinson, rang the bell opening the New York Stock Exchange and Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars threw out ceremonial first pitches before each game.

In 2007, outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. received permission from  then-commissioner Selig and Sharon Robinson to wear Robinson’s number on April 15. The following year, over 330 MLB players and coaches wore 42 jerseys on April 15. All uniformed personnel took the field with the number 42 for the first time in 2009, and the tradition has taken place every year since. 

The MLB is dedicated to continue to grow the celebration of Jackie Robinson Day to ensure his legacy lives on forever.

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