For the African American community, Jackie Robinson is bigger than baseball. He broke the color barrier and opened up plenty of opportunities in MLB. That’s why New York Yankees‘ legend Mariano Rivera feels “blessed” to be the last player to wear his number 42, before the league retired it for good to honor Jackie.
But besides Robinson, number 42 is strongly associated to Rivera, the greatest and most dominant closer of all time.
Rivera wore 42 in each of the 1,115 regular-season games — plus 96 postseason contests — he appeared in during his Hall of Fame career, one that saw him go in unanimously, the only human to ever do it to this day.
Rivera explained that he didn’t choose the number because of Robinson. â€œI didnâ€™t ask for it,â€ he said to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com. â€œIt was given to me.â€
It should be noted that lots of players were wearing number 42 during Rivera’s playing days. Only the Dodgers retired it in 1972.
The Yankees’ reliever understood the legacy behind the number
During his early playing days, Rivera wasn’t too much into the game’s history. However, back in 1997 when MLB retired it to honor Jackie, Mariano began to understand the significance of the uniform.
â€œI was really naÃ¯ve when it came to statistics, the people that had played the game; I was just happy to play the game and do the best I could to help the team win,â€ Rivera said. â€œPeople were talking about Jackie, making such a big move to retire the number, so I decided I better learn about him and understand what he was all about, what he did.â€
Thirteen active players were wearing 42 when MLB retired it in 1997, and they were allowed by MLB to continue using it for the remainder of their careers. After that, no one would ever use it. The Yankees’ righty was the last man standing.
â€œI was blessed that as the years went by, people wearing that number kept retiring and I kept going to the point that I was the last one standing,â€ Rivera said. â€œAt that point, it was even more demanding, the amount of responsibility I had wearing that number. That was real pressure.
New York Yankees’ fans grew accustomed to seeing Rivera’s 42 enter the game from the bullpen. Those are excellent memories that will linger in everyone’s minds.
â€œI wanted to make Mr. Jackie Robinson proud of the legacy that he left us. Me, being the last No. 42, doing it in a great arena as New York, I was thankful for the legacy he left for us to continue and pushing it forward, passing it down to the next generation.â€
Bud Selig, former MLB Commissioner, declared April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day back in 2004.