Rivera 'blessed' to wear No. 42
Jeter, Cano, Torre join closer for Robinson Day tribute
OAKLAND -- Derek Jeter paused for a moment at his locker on Sunday morning, looking up at the No. 42 jersey hanging in the stall. Any other time, this would mean that a clubhouse attendant had misplaced Mariano Rivera's uniform top.
Not on this day, as Major League Baseball universally tipped their collective caps to the barrier-breaking exploits of Jackie Robinson.
In addition to Rivera, the final active player still wearing No. 42 following its universal retirement in 1997, three Yankees also donned the legendary digits for the contest at Oakland: Jeter, second baseman Robinson Cano and manager Joe Torre.
Jeter said that, without question, baseball's acknowledgment of Robinson's contributions on Sunday would rank among the most memorable tributes of his playing career.
"I've never worn another number, obviously, but there have been times when you've had things on you that have meant a lot," Jeter said. "We've had tributes to players who have passed away and things like that, but this day is definitely memorable. It's something that means a lot, and it's special."
Introduced in 2004, Jackie Robinson Day was created to honor the enduring impact of Jackie Robinson and his legacy as the first African-American player to break the Major League color barrier. Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Robinson breaking the Major League color barrier in 1997, Robinson's uniform No. 42 was retired throughout the Major Leagues.
Robinson's memory lives on today in initiatives such as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was founded by Rachel Robinson in 1973 to provide education and leadership development opportunities for minority students with strong capabilities but limited financial resources, as well as Breaking Barriers, which utilizes baseball-themed activities to reinforce literacy skills, mathematics, science and social history while addressing critical issues of character development such as conflict resolution and self-esteem.
Rivera said it is "an honor" and that he feels "blessed" to continue wearing the No. 42 each day. Robinson's impact opened baseball's doors to players of all nationalities, races and creeds, which is something Rivera -- a native of Panama -- refuses to take for granted.
"You're not just talking about any player, or any person," Rivera said. "The respect that he had for the game, the passion that he had for the game, how he played the game -- we should respect that and tribute that."
Cano carries a reminder of Robinson's impact around every day. His father, Jose Cano, pitched briefly in the Major Leagues and named his son after the Dodgers Hall of Famer.
During the offseason, Cano elected to change his uniform number to No. 24, a reverse image of the digits Robinson wore as he clouded basepaths and electrified crowds at Ebbets Field.
"Because of him, we're here," Cano said. "We wear his number in his memory. It's the 60th anniversary, and it's a special day for him."
Torre grew up in Brooklyn during Robinson's playing career, but he cheered for the Dodgers' crosstown rival, the New York Giants. Torre said that he has always respected Robinson's contributions and impact upon the game, helping stir change and progress, and he recalls Robinson as a fierce competitor.
"He had such an arrogance to him, the way he played the game," Torre said. "He was intimidating. It was like electric when he was in the game, because something was going to happen."
Torre fondly recalls meeting Robinson once at a function during the Yankees manager's playing career, when Robinson was working as an executive for the Chock Full o' Nuts coffee company. The two shook hands and briefly were introduced.
To this day, Torre continues to marvel at the memory of seeing Robinson -- time and time again -- seemingly captured in a rundown between bases, only to somehow escape with an equal combination of athleticism and courage.
"The thing is, he was a tough son-of-a-gun. Obviously, Branch Rickey knew that and knew he had that inside him. He was quite an athlete, if you go back to his college days at UCLA, and it didn't look like there was much he couldn't do. I'm just glad we're, at this point 60 years later, still tipping our hats to him. I think it's great."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.