The Story Behind Jackie Robinson Day

Story by Mark Carlisle

If you tune in to an MLB game on tax day (April 15), you'll see something a little strange: every player on the field will be wearing No. 42.

On April 15, 1947, Opening Day of the baseball season, a black man stepped onto a white man's field. Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier and paved the way for thousands of minority athletes who came after him.

In 1997, Robinson's No. 42 was retired throughout the sport. No one on any team was allowed to wear the number. (Those who were already wearing the number at the time of the announcement were allowed to finish their career with it.)

In 2007 and 2008, players were allowed to wear No. 42 on April 15 – now observed as Jackie Robinson Day – if they so chose. Beginning in 2009, Jackie Robinson Day was expanded so that every player on every team wears No. 42, without any last name on the back.

But few fans know the history behind this juncture.

Leading up to a game at Cincinatti's Crosley Field, Robinson had received many serious death threats. It was to the point where police and FBI were stationed all around Crosley Field and snipers were positioned on the rooftop of the stadium and surrounding buildings, keeping an eye out for any possible shooters.

During the Dodgers' pre-game talk, players' minds were far from the game. Dodger outfielder Gene Hermanski had a suggestion: "Let's all wear 42."

All 25 Dodger players took the field with 42 on their backs.

Clearly this wasn't going to confuse a sniper looking for the only dark-skinned player on the field, but it was a show of solidarity. It was a way to say, "If you want him, you'll have to go through the rest of us."

No attackers of any kind were discovered at the game.


Here you can see Dodger play-by-play announcer Vin Scully retell the story. Scully has been announcing for the Dodgers since Jackie Robinson was playing.

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