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42 Is Gone But Not Forgotten

July 17, 2013

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.
-Field of Dreams

I know I said I was going to talk about Overplaying a Recommendation. And I’ll tackle that tomorrow. But today, I want to talk about one of my three passions. It’s probably not a huge exaggeration to say that I love three things:

1. My Family
2. God
3. Baseball

(Let’s just say in that order since my family reads this blog.)

Yesterday was the Major League Baseball All Star game, played at the Mets’ ballpark in New York. Something magical happened. (And not just because the American League won for the first time in four years.) Yankee’s closer, Mariano Rivera, played in his final All Star game.

For any readers who aren’t baseball fans and weren’t scared off by the topic so you’re still reading, the Closer is the pitcher who comes in at the very end of the game to get the final three outs. Mariano Rivera is the best there’s ever been at that role. He’s recorded 638 saves. The most of any player in history.

He announced his retirement earlier this year, so people know this is the last time they are going to see him in an All Star game. As he took the field, the entire stadium, and both teams gave him a standing ovation.

However, there’s one other aspect of Rivera’s All Star game performance I want to talk about: his number.

Every baseball player has a number assigned. Rivera’s happens to be #42. You might recognize that number. A movie came out this year whose title was “42.” And that’s what makes Rivera’s appearance last night so special.

Jackie Robinson played his first game in the Major Leagues on April 15, 1947, becoming the first black man to play Major League Baseball.

Fifty years later, baseball did something they had never done before and likely never will again. They retired his number across the league. Generally a team will decide to retire the number for a particularly good player. In fact, Robinson’s number 42 was retired by the Dodgers, in 1972. The idea is to honor the player by ensuring that no one will ever wear his number again. In 1997, the league said, no one in baseball will ever again wear number 42. It’s reserved for Jackie Robinson.

But, they had to consider the players on other teams who were already wearing the number 42. Those players had the option of switching numbers or finishing out their career with 42. Rivera opted to continue wearing 42. He is the last active player using number 42. So, when he walked off the field last night, it was the last time we will ever see number 42 show up in the box score of the All Star game. Fittingly Rivera was chosen as the Most Valuable Player of the game.

Rivera has had a Hall of Fame career and he deserves to stand alone as a great player, as the greatest Closer in the history of the game. However, he’s also tied forever with another ball player from a distant era who laid the foundation for the league we enjoy today.

Congratulations #42. We will miss you. Both of you.

About the author
Rodney M. Bliss has been a baseball fan since his dad took him to his first Seattle Mariners game when he was 12 years old. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and 13 children who indulge his love of America’s passtime.

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