ST. PETERSBURG -- An opportunity to wear a baseball jersey with the number "42" on the back will be a special thrill for outfielder Charlton Jimerson, the only African-American currently on the Mariners' 25-man roster. "It will be an honor," Jimerson said on Thursday when it became official that he would be one of five Mariners wearing that number next Tuesday night on Jackie Robinson Day. For the second consecutive season, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has invited all big league players to wear the number that Robinson wore during his Hall of Fame career with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jimerson, third baseman Adrian Beltre, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, pitcher Miguel Batista and outfielder Mike Morse will wear No. 42 in the Mariners game against the Royals at Safeco Field.
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 Dodgers. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Robinson breaking the Major League color barrier in 1997, Robinson's uniform number 42 was retired throughout the Major Leagues. 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 in addition to addressing critical issues of character development, such as conflict resolution and self-esteem. The idea of "unretiring" Robinson's number last year was the brainchild of former Mariners star center fielder Ken Griffey Jr., who personally petitioned the Commissioner for the opportunity. While stars like Griffey, Andruw Jones, Dontrelle Willis, Torii Hunter, Jermaine Dye, Derrek Lee, Mike Cameron, Gary Sheffield and, C.C. Sabathia honored Robinson by wearing No. 42 last season, Jimerson was at his home in Houston wishing he could have been doing the same thing. Jimerson had been released by the Astros on March 30 and was out of work until May 1, when he signed a Minor League contract with the Mariners. As he watched television coverage of Jackie Robinson Day '07, Jimerson said he remembers reflecting on the fact there are so few African-American players in the game and the number seems to be dwindling. "It's a tough thing to talk about," he said. Asked what he would say if he had a chance to sit down with Robinson, Jimerson said, "I would ask him about some of the things he went through that he had never talked about publicly. I think it would be very interesting, very enlightening." Four Mariners wore No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day last season -- Batista, Beltre, second baseman Jose Lopez, outfielder Jason Ellison and reliever Arthur Rhodes. Ellison and Rhodes are African-Americans. "I am proud to do that, even though I'm not African-American," the Dominican Republic-born Beltre said. "I came up in the Dodgers organization and I know how much Jackie Robinson meant to that organization.
"I'm a Latino, and I didn't go through anything close to what he went through, but it's an honor for me to wear No. 42."Same goes for Morse, born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. "First of all, it's an honor to be able to wear that number," Morse said. "It's a reminder to me and everybody what he did for the game, what he went through. It's a privilege, really, to wear his number."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.