Brewers honored to wear No. 42
Players and coaches don number on Jackie Robinson Day
ST. LOUIS -- When Bill Hall learned that he would not be the only Brewer wearing No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day, he was not disappointed at all.
"I'm not the only person who wants to represent Jackie on this day," said Hall, who was originally tabbed as the only Milwaukee player to honor Robinson on the 60th anniversary of his first Major League game. "I'm excited that it's not just me."
Hall said he was also excited that the honor was not limited to him and African-American teammates Prince Fielder, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Rickie Weeks. All Brewers players and coaches wore No. 42 against the Cardinals on Sunday, and St. Louis players and coaches did the same.
"It's about being a baseball player, no matter what your skin color is," Hall said. "Jackie was all about the idea that you can play baseball no matter what you look like."
Players took batting practice in their usual jerseys, but before the game they changed into grey tops with No. 42 on the back and no last names. The number was retired in 1997, as part of 50th anniversary celebrations of Robinson's first game, but Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. contacted the Commissioner's Office earlier this month and asked if he might borrow it for one day. Major League Baseball liked the idea so much that other teams were asked to participate.
Brewers manager Ned Yost originally approached Hall with the idea, but the team subsequently decided last week that all players would take part. It led to a healthy clubhouse discussion on Sunday.
"I just hope that the original idea isn't lost in that fact that we're all doing it now," said one Brewers veteran. "The original idea that Griffey had was really, really good, and you don't want to diminish that. I know Billy was really excited to wear it."
Introduced in 2004, Jackie Robinson Day was created to honor the enduring impact of Robinson and his legacy as the first African-American player to break the Major League color barrier. Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Robinson's memory lives on today in initiatives such as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was founded by Rachel Robinson in 1973 to provide education and leadership development opportunities for minority students with strong capabilities but limited financial resources, as well as Breaking Barriers, which utilizes baseball-themed activities to reinforce literacy skills, mathematics, science and social history while addressing critical issues of character development, such as conflict resolution and self-esteem.
Fielder, Gwynn, Hall, Weeks and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin took part in a pregame ceremony on the field Sunday. Gwynn wore extra-baggy pants tucked into his high socks, a tribute to Robinson. The granddaughters of Robinson and former Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey threw ceremonial first pitches.
Like a lot of African-Americans who have climbed the ladder to the Major Leagues, Hall looks around the game and worries that there aren't many others who look like him.
"It's a lot easier to [find] a basketball court or throw a football around than to find a baseball field near your home," said Hall, who grew up in Mississippi. "It's just always easier for them to play the other sports and have those sports grow on you. When I was a kid, baseball grew on me."
Hall is trying to impart some of that passion on kids in Milwaukee. He is a supporter of MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program and he visits local schools during the summer.
"He's perfect in that setting," said Leonard Peace, the Brewers' senior director of community relations. "Everybody's different, and you never know if a guy is going to be more shy about his public appearances. Bill needs very little prepping for us; he just knows all the right things to say. Right away, he has everybody smiling. The guy is the genuine article."
Hall credits his mom, Vergie, for much of his success, but said Robinson had something to do with it, too.
"I don't want to say I'm a great historian, but how could you not look up to him?" Hall said. "There were a lot of guys who probably could have broken the color barrier, but he was the first to step up and take the initiative and go through all the things that he went through to get me where I am right now."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.