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Where 42 Meets April 15

April 18, 2016

Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy fans know it’s the ultimate answer to “life, the universe and everything.” 

It’s the day that taxes in the United States are due.

But, there’s a more important, more symbolic meaning behind this number and this date and where they intersect.

When Michael Jordan first retired from basketball in 1993, the Chicago Bulls retired his number, 23. They wanted to ensure that no Chicago Bulls player would ever again wear number 23. It would forever be associated with Michael Jordan. Jordan later came back to play many more years and win additional championships before retiring for good in 2003. Interestingly, as his  career was winding down, the Miami Heat, a team that Jordan had never played for, decided to retire the number 23 to honor his contributions to the game. 

Retiring a number is considered the ultimate honor, greater even than induction into the Hall of Fame. The team with the greatest number of retired numbers is the New York Yankees baseball team. They’ve retired 16 numbers. Players that even non-baseball fans would recognize played for the Yankees: Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, Joe DiMaggio and Reggie Jackson, along with names that baseball fans revere: Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Fork. 

Occasionally, a player will have his number retired by multiple teams: Michael Jordan, as mentioned above, but also Wilt Chamberlain, who once scored 100 points in a basketball game, had his number retired by two teams. Hank Aaron, the one-time home run king of baseball has his number retired by both the Braves and the Brewers. “Mr. October,” Reggie Jackson had his number retired by both the Oakland A’s where he first had success and by the Yankees, where he helped them win multiple championships. 

But, who had their number retired by the most teams? That distinction comes down to two players. Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player to ever laces up a pair of skates has his #99 retired by all 30 NHL teams. And Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play Major League Baseball in the modern era matched Gretzky. His #42 is retired by all 30 MLB teams. 

Jackie Robinson first played in the major leagues in 1947. It was 50 years later in 1997, that the league took the unprecedented step of retiring his number throughout all of baseball. On that day, a player named Ken Griffey Jr asked for permission to flip his #24 to #42 to honor the man who broke the MLB color barrier. 

Ten years later, on the 60th anniversary of his achievement, MLB made another unprecedented change. They allowed palyers to wear 42 for a single game. The idea caught on to the point that by 2009, everyone in baseball was wearing it, each year for one day only. 

That day was last Saturday, April 15th. That marks the day of Robinson’s first game as a Major Leaguer, April 15th, 1947. If you saw any pictures from last Saturday’s games, every player, coach and manager was wearing #42. (Any teams that had an off day on Saturday honored Robinson by wearing #42 on their next game.)

April 15th is a day that many in the United States look forward to in dread. If you haven’t done it before then, you have to get your taxes in by that day. 

But, for baseball fans, and fans of Civil Rights, April 15th is a day to look forward to. It’s inspiring to see every player in baseball honoring a man who did so much for the game. And, fittingly they are honoring him in the best way possible; just by going about their day, doing their jobs; simply by playing baseball.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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