The life and legend of Jackie Robinson has been recently chronicled in the movie "42," but the first African American major league player was immortalized long before the movie. And in this episode of Politics Confidential, we caught up with two baseball players who have special connections to Jackie -- one named after him, the other the last who will ever wear his jersey number.
The New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, set to retire at the season’s end, is the last major league baseball player still wearing a jersey with the number 42.
The number 42 was retired across all major league teams in honor of Robinson 1997. But Rivera, who was already wearing 42 at that time, along with other players across the league, has been allowed to wear the number until his retirement.
“It's not only a privilege, a satisfaction, it's a responsibility,” Rivera tells Politics Confidential about being the last to wear the symbolic 42. “I accept the challenge, because what…Mr. Jackie Robinson represented, what he did, and the legacy he has for us.”
Rivera’s teammate Robinson Cano, who was named after Jackie Robinson and wears the number 24 (42 backwards) as a way to wear the same numbers as the immortalized Robinson, says Rivera’s last game will be an unforgettable one.
“That's gonna be a memorable day, you know, the last day you can see 42 in a jersey,” Cano says.
While Rivera wears Robinson’s 42 with pride today, he tells the story of how he came to wear the number randomly.
“When I come up the first time, they gave me number 58 then sat me down. When they call me up again, they gave me number 42,” he recounts.
He explains that he didn’t initially understand the significance of the number.
“At that time, a lot of players were wearing number 42, so I mean, I didn't know at all,” he says.
Rivera and Cano credit Robinson for paving the way for non-white players, like themselves, to play the game today.
“All the things that he went through, and he got the jersey in the restroom, I mean, he had to go through all that stuff and played the way he played the game, he's got so much going on, and you can even focus like that, and he was he was a warrior,” Cano says.
For more of Rivera and Cano’s reflections on Robinson’s contributions to baseball, and to hear whether Rivera has any second thoughts about his pending retirement, check out this episode of Politics Confidential.
ABC's Eric Wray, Freda Kahen Kashi, Beth Loyd, Rich Trobiano, Kevin Trainor, Tom Manning, and Jim Sicile contributed to this episode.