Although much of the Major League slate for today was rained out, it was interesting to see which players would be doing their part to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Some teams, most notably Robinson's own Dodgers, as well as the Astros, Cardinals, Brewers, Phillies and Pirates, wore, or planned to have everyone on the team dress in number 42 for the day.
Robinson's #42 had been retired in perpetuity in a ceremony at Shea Stadium in 1997. Any player who had already been wearing 42 could continue to wear it, but it could never be issued to a new player afterwards. Several players were grandfathered in to the number. The Yankees Mariano Rivera is the only active player remaining. The last player to be issued 42 was Marc Sagmoen, a little known outfielder for the Texas Rangers.
Willie Randolph was to be the only member of the Mets to wear 42 today. He'll instead wear it on Friday evening, when the Mets return home to play Atlanta. 42 has become a symbol of the spirit of Jackie Robinson across all sports, and before it was retired, many players wore the number in his honor, much in the same way that many Venezuelans wear 13 in honor of Dave Concepcion, and Puerto Ricans wear 21 to honor Roberto Clemente.
But although Concepcion and Clemente did leave their own indelible marks on the game, Robinson's legacy outshines both of them. Here's a partial list of the "All 42" team that did or planned to dress in 42 today: Gary Matthews, Jr., Milton Bradley, Rich Harden, Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas, Royce Clayton, Derrek Lee, Cliff Floyd, Jacque Jones, Carl Crawford, Orlando Hudson, Tony Clark, Barry Bonds, C.C. Sabathia, Grady Sizemore, Josh Barfield, Dontrelle Willis, Dmitri Young, Corey Patterson, Mike Cameron, Kenny Lofton, Reggie Sanders, La Troy Hawkins, Coco Crisp, David Ortiz, Gary Sheffield, Curtis Granderson, Craig Monroe, Torii Hunter, Rondell White, Ivan Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and, of course, Ken Griffey, Jr., who started this idea in the first place.
The Mets have had their share of 42s throughout their history as well. None of them ever come close to having the impact on Baseball that Jackie Robinson did, but many of them left an imprint on the Mets. Special thanks to the good people at MBTN.net (temporarily here for a site redesign) for making this search very easy.
Mo Vaughn was grandfathered into the clause while he played with the Boston Red Sox. He maintained the use of 42 while with the Anaheim Angels for two seasons, and the Mets broke out the number for him when he arrived in 2002. Although we all know that Mo's heart was always in the right place, and he came with the perfect outgoing attitude for survival in New York, he proved to be grossly and ridiculously out of shape, coming off a biceps injury that caused him to miss the entire 2001 season. Yes, he had his moments with the Mets, including a game winning HR against Wells and the Yankees, and his scoreboard-shattering HR off the Budweiser sign against Atlanta, but he could barely bend over to pick up a ground ball, and when he dove, it registered on the Richter scale. A chronically arthritic knee forced Mo into retirement in 2003, which proved to be more beneficial to the Mets, as it allowed younger, more able players to see time in the lineup. Among Mo's legacy with the Mets is this sandwich, the Mo-Licious, which was available at the Carnegie Deli. I don't think you can get it anymore. Who would want it? Who can eat that? Just looking at that picture hardens my arteries.
Butch Huskey, in addition to having signed El Guapo's glove a generation ago, was another Met 42. Butch was the original Met grandfathered into the 42 clause, having worn 42 at Shea on the night the number was retired. Huskey's legacy with the Mets is similar to Vaughn's. An engaging personality with tons of promise and power potential that went mostly unrealized, due to injuries and inconsistency. Huskey wasn't nearly as out of shape as Vaughn, and he didn't have a sandwich named after him, but he would give the Mets glimpses of greatness, only to end up stagnating. In 1996, Huskey went on a record setting power binge in Spring Training, whacking 9 HRs, and earning himself the cleanup spot in the batting order, Huskey hit .226 with 1 HR in April, and struggled to keep himself in the lineup the rest of that season. He started on the bench in 1997, but ended up in the lineup by May, and responded with a brilliant season, hitting 24 HRs, driving in 81, while hitting .287. But counted on to provide the spark with Hundley injured in 1998, again, Huskey faltered, only managing to hit .252 with 13 HRs before a hamstring injury in August ended his season, and his Mets career.
Roger McDowell also wore 42, during his time with the Mets. There was no Grandfather involved here, as it was more than 10 years prior to the retirement of 42. McDowell was, while wearing the Mets uniform, by far and away the most successful 42 in club history. McDowell was also one of the most noted characters in team history, and between his hotfoots, his array of masks, and his other assorted practical jokes, he became legendary with all Mets fans for his sense of humor. He performed just as well on the mound for several seasons, where his sinker and his constant bubble-gum blowing were always a welcome sight on some very successful Mets teams. McDowell left in 1989, in the ill advised Juan Samuel deal, but he is forever lionized in the hearts of Mets fans for his role on the '86 Championship team.
Ron Hodges wore 42 longer than any other Met ever did. And he didn't do much to make sure you remembered him. Not related to Gil, Ron Hodges spent the better part of 12 seasons as a career backup catcher, filling in as needed for Jerry Grote, John Stearns, Alex Trevino and Mike Fitzgerald, while never playing in more than 110 games in any given season between 1973 and 1984. Hodges would be the kind of gritty, gutty player you'd remember as being a key cog on a great team, except that none of the Mets teams that Hodges played for were particularly good, and Hodges himself wasn't very good either. But I'm told he was, and probably still is, a very nice man.
Rounding out the Mets 42s, Ron Taylor, a pitcher who was a key swing man out of the bullpen for the 1969 Mets, Larry Elliot, a ragtag Outfielder who never amounted to much, and Chuck Taylor, who was neither a mass murderer or a shoemaker.
None of these players hold a candle to Jackie Robinson. He didn't change the game by himself, but the game couldn't have changed without him.