On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to reach the major leagues in modern history. Major League Baseball retired Robinson’s No. 42 in 1997, and outside of New York Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera, the only time No. 42 is worn in MLB is on April 15—Jackie Robinson Day—when all major leaguers wear the number.
(Do you know whose idea it was to honor Robinson in this way? The answer comes later.)
As we at TeamNames.net tip our caps to Robinson and what he did for sports and society as a whole, here are 10 lesser-known facts about No. 42.
No. 2: One of Robinson’s older brothers, Matthew “Mack” Robinson, won a silver medal in the 200 meters in the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin. Jesse Owens won the gold. Owens set an Olympic record with his time of 20.7 seconds. Mack Robinson ran the race in 21.1 seconds.
No. 3: Jackie Robinson became the first student at UCLA to letter in four sports: football, basketball, baseball and track. He was an All-American in football, led the Pacific Coast Conference in scoring twice in basketball, and was the 1940 NCAA champion in the broad jump. However, he batted just .097 in his one season as a Bruins baseball player.
No. 4: While Robinson is in UCLA Hall of Fame and the Bruins’ baseball stadium is named for him, he did not receive a college degree from the school. Financial problems forced him to quit school before graduating.
No. 5: Robinson played semi-pro football for the Honolulu Bears. After playing in the Bears’ first exhibition game in Pearl Harbor, Robinson left Honolulu on Dec. 5, 1941. Two days later, Pearl Harbor was attacked.
No. 6: Robinson served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1944, reaching the rank of second lieutenant.
No. 7: Robinson’s first MLB at-bat on April 15, 1947 resulted in a ground out against Johnny Sain of the Boston Braves. He went 0-for-3 on the day with a run scored.
No. 9: Robinson’s forte was not hitting home runs. It was stealing bases. In his career, he stole 197 bases, including swiping home 19 times—an MLB record for players debuting after 1920. The first time he did it was on June 24, 1947. Perhaps his most famous—and most controversial—theft of home plate came in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series against Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and the New York Yankees.
No. 10: Robinson won the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year award in 1947. In 1949, each league began giving out its own Rookie of the Year award. In 1987, both leagues renamed the honor the Jackie Robinson Award.
(Whose idea was it to honor Jackie Robinson by having all players wear No. 42 on April 15? Ken Griffey, Jr’s.)