Tourtellotte: The history of 42, before 42 made history

From SABR member Shane Tourtellotte at The Hardball Times on April 12, 2019:

We’re close to a familiar anniversary on the baseball calendar. April 15, 1947, was the day Jackie Robinson debuted in the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the infamous color barrier. This coming Monday, we will see every player on every major league team—okay, 20 of them: the other 10 won’t play until Tuesday—wearing Robinson’s 42 in his honor. It is a remarkable day in baseball—and American—culture, and only partly because it makes people feel good about a date usually associated with the IRS.

Robinson’s ties to his number, which he wore for his entire 10-year career and which Commissioner Bud Selig retired across baseball in 1997, are now part of his legend. Still, the number 42 wasn’t always uniquely his. It had a history before Robinson made history with it.

I looked into that history, into all of the ballplayers who wore 42 before Robinson officially took possession of it on April 15, 1947. Their ranks included some notable names and a lot of footnotes to baseball history. I learned things from both groups, some of them real surprises, and together they shone a light on an unappreciated facet of Robinson’s career, one more important to his place in history than it seems at first glance.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: April 17, 2019. Last Updated: April 17, 2019.