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Hunter & Sabathia: Players "Watering Down" Robinson Celebration
Posted by Bret Cohen at 4/12/2007 3:49:00 PM
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This preseason, Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. received special permission from Jackie Robinson's widow Rachel to honor the 60th anniversary of Robinson integrating the major leagues by wearing Robinson's No. 42 on Sunday, April 15. This has ballooned into more than 150 players saying they'll wear No. 42, according to Five entire teams -- the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros -- will field rosters of 42s for the day.

Instead of being elated at the outpouring of support from players wanting to honor what Robinson did for the game, Twins outfielder Torii Hunter, one of the first players who was to wear No. 42, said to USA Today (listed in the same report): "This is supposed to be an honor, and just a handful of guys wearing the number. 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."

"It kind of waters it down," Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia also told USA Today. "I could see the Dodgers since that was his team, but not everyone else."

How pretentious is that? This is supposed to be a joyous day, where all players, whatever their color or nationality, can recognize the contribution that Robinson made to the entire game of baseball. While this is of a greater and more historically significant magnitude, the large-scale symbolism is akin to when more than 50 players used pink bats as part of a week-long program to benefit breast cancer research. Was that a disaster? Did that water down the message, or did it strengthen it?

Griffey said it best, reacting to the amount of players wearing No. 42, saying: "I didn't know so many guys planned to wear the number. I sure wasn't expecting whole teams to wear it. But I'm not going to look at it as a negative. This is a tribute for what the man has done, a day to celebrate."

Why can't Hunter and Sabathia be happy that Robinson's accomplishments are being celebrated by the rest of the league? Certainly, he opened the door for not only African American players, but set the table for the influx of Latin players that commenced a decade or so later. Not only that, but breaking the color barrier is a great lesson to teach all baseball fans, whatever their race or ethnicity. Who, in their minds, should be allowed to wear the number? Only one player per team? Only African American players? Only the best African American player per team?

I wonder Sabathia is upset at his teammates who have elected to honor Robinson in this manner as well. At least on the Indians, both Grady Sizemore and Josh Barfield will wear No. 42, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "It means a lot to me," said Sizemore to the Plain Dealer. "The Indians asked me if I wanted to do it and I said yes. It's a way of paying tribute to him. It shows respect for what he did and I'm going to wear it with pride."

"It's a great tribute to a great man," Barfield said to "It's cool to see everyone around the league wearing it. I'll be honored to wear it."

In fact, Sabathia isn't scheduled to pitch that day, so he actually deferred to Barfield -- the only African American starting position player on the Indians -- to wear the number as a starter, according to the report.

In addition, the Indians are petitioning Major League Baseball for the right to pay a similar tribute to Larry Doby, who became the first African American player in the American League when he suited up for Cleveland on July 5, 1947, by wearing Doby's No. 14 on the anniversary of the event. I think that such tributes -- as long as they don't occur too often or an extended period of time, to preserve the meaning -- are very powerful and help teach all the fans of major league baseball (especially the younger ones who weren't around) the power of perseverance in the face of hatred and bigotry. In addition, if baseball and other professional sports can use the stage they are on and their popularity to help advance other worthwhile causes (like the breast cancer research funding), I think it's worth it to have as many players participate as possible.

I only wish that Hunter and Sabathia could recognize that having more players honor Robinson can only increase the power of his legacy, not "water down" the tribute.


Maybe they just mean that if only a select few players, who care deeply about it, sport the number then it means something. But when everyone's jumping on the bandwagon to get the good P.R. from wearing the number, then the guys who really care feel a bit like it's watered down. Like it no longer means anything now that every opportunist has co-opted it.
Posted by cliss at 4/13/2007 1:11:00 AM
Another perspective is that: are the players who don't wear 42 going to be under a microscope, and get asked why they didn't wear the 42? Don't they support Jackie Robinson? Also, Griffey Jr. got permission from his widow, Grady Sizemore was asked by the Indians, what was he going to say, no? Maybe some type of armband worn by the players or something to that degree would have been a better idea. On a lighter side, there are too many old broadcasters in the country who will be confused on Sunday with all the 42s out there and may actually think Jackie is back on the field...
Posted by kevinccp at 4/13/2007 7:52:00 AM
Do you truly think that everyone is "jumping on the bandwagon to get the good P.R. from wearing the number"? That's an awfully pessimistic view. I think it's awfully presumptuous for you state that other players don't "deeply care" about it. Do you doubt Grady Sizemore's sincerity? And don't you think it magnifies the message when more players wear the number? If I were a major leaguer, I would proudly honor Jackie Robinson in such a manner if I had the chance. If an entire team wearing #42 gets one child to even ask "why are all those players wearing the same number," I think that such a gesture would be successful.
Posted by bscwik at 4/13/2007 8:02:00 AM
How do you determine who cares deeply and who is an "opportunist". Could CC and Tori be opportunists who are now disappointed that they won't get all the "glory"?
Posted by hainesbl at 4/13/2007 8:04:00 AM
In the ESPNNews interview, available at, Torii Hunter makes a decent point that if a whole team wears a number, players wouldn't be wearing it for the significance of the number, rather because they're being forced to, and says that only the entire Dodgers team should wear it. But then he inferred that only African American players should get to wear the number. Interviewer: "But how do you determine who gets to wear No. 42 and who doesn't?" Hunter: "I'm not going to even say it, you just think about it (laughs)". The interviewer then mentioned the argument that having more players would increase the significance of the day, and Hunter doesn't give an answer, stating: "Either way you say it, it might be the right way, or it might be the wrong way, but I don't want to say the wrong thing, I don't want to say the right thing, but that's my opinion."
Posted by bscwik at 4/13/2007 8:41:00 AM
I think teams should wear the number of a significant barrier breaker for their own team as a way of honoring Mr. Robinson's contributions. For example, the Pittsburgh Pirates would all wear No. 21 for Roberto Clemente.
Posted by jtopper at 4/13/2007 9:01:00 AM
I can't speak for Sizemore in particular, but yes, I do think that most of those guys are just doing it because everyone else is, and it would look bad at this point if they didn't, i.e., for the perception of it. You may call it pessimistic, but I think it's realistic. It's very easy to celebrate someone who (at least now) is universally revered. It's the same reason why announcers suck up to Brett Favre no matter what he does, and the same reason why people kiss ass the world over - it makes them look good. Are some of the tributes actually sincere - no doubt. But to have everyone sucking up - maybe it does water it down.
Posted by cliss at 4/13/2007 11:16:00 AM
I didn't mean to single out Grady Sizemore, but put yourself in his position, you aren't going to endear yourself to the Indians or the fans if you turn down wearing 42. That was my point, I'm sure Grady is a good guy who probably wants to do it, but the Indians put him in a corner asking him to wear it, where as Griffey sought out permission or was asked by Robinson's widow. And I guess I'll say it-Tori Hunter is right, no matter what us white guys will never understand what it means to be black, maybe just the black players should wear it since they might not be playing today because of Jackie.
Posted by kevinccp at 4/13/2007 2:01:00 PM
So what about black Latin Americans? All Latin Americans? All non-white players? Presumably, Robinson helped pave the way for them too.
Posted by bscwik at 4/13/2007 8:09:00 PM
Andre Ethier, on Buster Olney's blog: "The decision to wear No. 42 this weekend is one that makes you swallow with a lump in your throat to be able, for even one day, to wear the same number that a man that achieved more by setting foot on a field on April 15 than I will ever probably do in my life. It's something that conjures up feelings of not being worthy, even if I'm only wearing his number for the day. I can only hope my shoulders on Sunday are worthy of that honor of wearing 42." Sounds self-serving to me.
Posted by bscwik at 4/15/2007 10:41:00 PM

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