On Tuesday, Major League Baseball will once again honor the player that broke the sport’s color barrier by celebrating Jackie Robinson Day. Some specially selected players will wear Robinson’s retired #42, while in other cases, the entire team will don the same jersey.
However, Torii Hunter still stands by the words he said last year, where he questioned the over-abundance of so many players wearing #42 and “watering down” the special meaning - especially on MLB teams with no black players.
Bill Shaikin of the LOS ANGELES TIMES recalls Hunter’s comments back when he was with the Twins. He had told USA TODAY:
“This is supposed to be an honor, and just a handful of guys wearing the number. Now you’ve got entire teams doing it. I think we’re killing the meaning.
“It should be special wearing Jackie’s number, not just because it looks cool.”
But it wasn’t until recently that Torii explained the reason for last season’s lashing out. The Houston Astros were one of the teams that all wore #42 for Jackie Robinson Day last April. Yet, the team didn’t have one black player on their roster:
“When you have a team that doesn’t have any African American players on the team, and then everybody on the team wears it, yes, it’s watered down, because they don’t have blacks to represent Jackie Robinson over there.
“It’s pretty weird. That’s just my opinion.”
And how was his opinion received? With a lot of hate, and labels of racism:
“That was a little scary. I didn’t know I was a racist. I’ve never been a racist.”
But as Shaikin reveals, Hunter doesn’t have reason to be any happier about this year’s celebration. Back in 1997, when MLB retired Robinson’s number, one in six major leaguers was black. Today, the ratio has fallen to 1 in 12.
And Torii may be taken aback that the Colorado Rockies, the defending NL Champs, have no brothers in the lineup.
However, Shaikin disagrees with Hunter’s assessment that the reverence of Robinson being “watered down”, saying it shouldn’t matter what color the skin is underneath Tuesday’s wearers of #42:
Before (Bud) Selig retired Robinson’s number, you could have walked through any clubhouse, quizzed players about Robinson and his legacy and heard this response far too often: “I don’t know.”
Every player should learn about Robinson, and about the barriers he broke on and off the field, to appreciate and to share with the community. Every player can relate to overcoming adversity, if not in a historical sense. Any player, of any race, should have the choice of representing Robinson by wearing his number.
“If you want to put it that way, that’s fine. That’s a positive. You can say that. I’m not going to say that’s a bunch of bull … That’s actually a good thought process. But that’s not my opinion.”
Too bad the Angels & Rockies don’t meet up this season. But the Los Angeles of Anaheim of California of the United States squad does host the Mets on August 8, one of the teams tomorrow that will “water down” Jackie’s legacy. Let’s see if Torii remembers and what he plans to do.