Every year, even in a pandemic, Jackie Robinson Day creates one of the great sights in baseball: an entire league wearing No. 42.
Everyone — including players, coaches, umpires and sometimes even fans — wearing the jersey number of the man who broke baseball's color barrier 74 years ago today. It's hard to think of a bigger tribute bestowed on a player by a league, and yet MLB's efforts to honor Robinson go beyond it in 2021.
How MLB is honoring Jackie Robinson
Between Thursday and Friday — teams off on the former will honor Robinson on the latter — MLB players will take the field not only wearing No. 42, but also with a patch on both their hats and uniforms dedicated to the occasion.
MLB will donate the royalties of all sales of the apparel to the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
It will also be a big day for the Players Alliance, a group of current and former MLB players pushing for increased Black representation in baseball. Over 100 players, including David Price, Jason Heyward, and Jackie Bradley Jr., will donate their salaries for the day to the organization.
MLB will be holding several events as well, including its Jackie Robinson Challenge for young students and Trailblazer Series for young women interested in baseball. Olympic gold medalist Jennie Finch will be hosting a drive-thru Play Ball event in her hometown of Lake Charles, Louisiana.
There is also MLB Network's feature on the late Chadwick Boseman discussing Robinson and the honor of playing him in 2013's "42." Boseman died of colon cancer last year on Jackie Robinson Day, held on Aug. 28 due to pandemic.
Jackie Robinson Day goes back to 2004
The first Jackie Robinson Day was held on April 15, 2004, the 57th anniversary of Robinson's historic debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. It soon became one of MLB's most important traditions.
Then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig said it was important to ensure Robinson's memory continued:
"I have often stated that baseball's proudest moment and its most powerful social statement came on April 15, 1947 when Jackie Robinson first set foot on a Major League Baseball field," said Selig. "On that day, Jackie brought down the color barrier and ushered in the era in which baseball became the true national pastime. Fifty years after that historic event, in April 1997, I was proud to join Rachel Robinson and President Bill Clinton at Shea Stadium to honor Jackie by retiring his uniform number 42 in perpetuity. By establishing April 15 as 'Jackie Robinson Day' throughout Major League Baseball, we are further ensuring that the incredible contributions and sacrifices he made — for baseball and society — will not be forgotten."
The tradition of every player, coach and umpire wearing No. 42 — which was retired across the league in 1997 — came a few years later, with Ken Griffey Jr. requesting to wear the number in honor of Robinson. A year later, the entire league was wearing No. 42 on April 15, and it's been the same ever since. Thursday's slate of games begins just after noon in New York and concludes at Dodger Stadium at 10:10 ET.
Last year's Jackie Robinson Day, held on Aug. 28, the anniversary of Robinson's first meeting with Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, carried even more weight, due to both Boseman's death and widespread protests following the Jacob Blake shooting, including the Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics walking off the field.