Rachel Robinson, the wife of baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson, said she was glad that the last New York Yankee to wear her husband’s No. 42 will be pitcher Mariano Rivera, who plans to announce his retirement Saturday after this season.
“I’ve always been proud and pleased that Mariano was the one chosen to wear that number because I think he brought something special to it,” the 90-year-old Robinson said Thursday by phone to Ian O’ Connor of ESPNNewYork.com.
Rivera received the No. 42 jersey by a Yankees’ clubhouse attendant in 1995, solidifying an official spot on the Yankees’ roster. In 1997, Major League Baseball honored Jackie Robinson’s big-league debut as the first African-American to break the color barrier in the sport. In recognition of his accomplishment MLB retired his jersey throughout the league, while allowing active players who already had No. 42 to keep the number until they retired.
The 43-year-old Rivera, who will retire as the greatest closer of all time, has been the only player to wear the number since Mo Vaughn stepped away from baseball in 2003.
“He carried himself with dignity and grace and that made carrying the number a tribute to Jack,” Robinson said.
Rachel Robinson, who met Rivera on several occasions, said that she has never had the opportunity to get to know Rivera on a personal level, but is proud of the accomplishments that Rivera has achieved throughout his career.
“Mariano is a wonderful player and he’s taken his place on the team in serious ways but also in graceful way,” Robinson said. “I’m always a little sad when someone who’s accomplished so much retires.”
Robinson, who has been deemed as the first lady of baseball, has had a front-row seat to see how things have changed because of her husband’s historic entry into baseball in 1946.
Ralph Branca, Jackie Robinson’s former teammate and friend, said that Robinson did as much for the cause of racial equality as the late Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We’re all very proud of the part Jack played in social change in this country,” Rachel Robinson said. “I’m extremely proud of President Obama in his own right; he’s shown he’s the kind of leader one can feel proud of. I think Jack, like many other heroes and heroines from the past, performed in such a way that the people coming forward had shoulders to stand on.”
Robinson’s No. 42 illuminates as more than just a jersey worn by a great baseball player. The number for so many players and people is representation of strength and courage during a time of racial injustice for African-Americans.