Thankful does not even begin to describe what baseball feels towards Jackie Robinson. Quite simply, the game would not be the same if he had not stepped onto Ebbets Field for the Brooklyn Dodgers that day 75 years ago. It was one of the most important moments in baseball history. Sports would not be the same. But there is someone who does not get the recognition he deserves for pushing forward the idea of creating Jackie Robinson Day. So on the 25th anniversary of the first Jackie Robinson Day in 1997, let us send our thanks to Seattle Mariners great, Hall of Famer, and champion of Jackie Robinson, Ken Griffey Jr. This is how Jackie Robinson Day started with Ken Griffey Jr.
Jackie Robinson Day and Ken Griffey Jr.
On this day 25 years ago, Jackie Robinson’s number became the very first number in sports to be retired league-wide. Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson, and even President Bill Clinton were there to witness the honor. For years after, those who were already wearing the number continued to wear it. Most notably, Mariano Rivera was the very last to wear it. But what does all this have to do with Ken Griffey Jr? All it took was a simple ask. He asked to switch his number, 24, the other way around. So he wore 42 that day. No one else asked to. Griffey was the only one to wear 42 on April 15th, 1997, when it was not his.
Ten more years passed. Jackie Robinson Day became a tradition. But nothing like we know 42 day to be now. On the 60th anniversary, Griffey Jr asked to wear it again. This time he had to go through a lot more to get permission to wear the retired number. The commissioner first, and even Rachel Robinson. He was granted it and wore it on April 15th, 2007. Commissioner Bud Selig was inspired by this and also opened it up to others for the next two seasons. But in 2009, every single player wore 42 for one day a year in honor of Jackie Robinson. And that is what it has been ever since then.
What started with Ken Griffey Jr has grown even larger. Now players even donate their salary for April 15th to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. However, Ken Griffey Jr and Jackie Robinson Day go far beyond his playing days and wearing 42 on the field for one day a year.
Griffey’s Involvement with the Jackie Robinson Foundation
Jackie Robinson Day may have started with Ken Griffey Jr, but it does not end there for him. The Jackie Robinson Foundation, in conjunction with Capital One, has joined up for a special cause. Of course, Ken Griffey Jr. has helped this initiative. Whenever there is a walk-off hit in 2022, Capital One will donate $1,000 to the foundation. Griffey recently described Jackie Robinson as the “godfather” to black players in the sport. Griffey is very much carrying on that legacy by helping the Jackie Robinson Foundation “educate, inspire, and challenge” as per their motto.
Ken Griffey’s Idea Spreads Throughout Baseball
From Brooklyn where it all began, out west to Los Angeles and Seattle, they all hold a special connection to one another. All because of one man who was so appreciative of Jackie Robinson and his sacrifice that allowed himself 50 years later to play the game he loved. Most people would assume this tradition started with the Dodgers. They would be surprised to know it started with a player from Seattle. He did not even think it would get this big, and it has been “an unbelievable thing since day one.” If Ken Griffey Jr’s play on the field was not impactful enough, his efforts with Jackie Robinson Day sure are. Both players have something in common. They both had no idea the legacy they would leave behind.
May Ken Griffey Jr’s brilliant idea span for many generations to come in baseball. Happy Jackie Robinson Day to all.
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