Major League Baseball commemorated the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic debut with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers by retiring his No. 42 across the entire league during the 1995 season.
However, players that were currently wearing the number were allowed to keep it as long as they wanted. One of those, at the time a rookie New York Yankees reliever named Mariano Rivera, eventually became the last MLB player to regularly wear No. 42 by the time he retired in 2013.
At that point, Rivera had become arguably the best closer in baseball history, helping the Yankees to five World Series championships. He joined Robinson in baseball’s Hall of Fame on Sunday after becoming the first player to be unanimously elected to the Hall.
Rivera’s choice of number added a unique element to his dominant career. He felt a special obligation to uphold the legacy of the man who broke MLB’s color barrier, as he told ESPN’s William Weinbaum:
“It moved me to always do my best, so I can make Mr. Jackie Robinson proud of me. And that was my challenge — I wanted to do whatever it takes to keep the legacy that Mr. Jackie Robinson left us.”
Robinson’s widow, Rachel, commended Rivera for his career and representation of No. 42:
“Carried Jack’s legacy with dignity, distinction and courage” and “becoming the first unanimous inductee in the Hall of Fame’s history is a wonderfully fitting tribute to Mariano, a man of stellar character who has given so much to the game, and who continues to give so generously to our broader community. I am thrilled for him.”
Robinson wore No. 42 with the Dodgers during all 10 seasons of his MLB career. No other player in franchise history wore the number after him, and the Los Angeles Dodgers retired it for good in 1972.
Robinson’s health was already failing at that time, though he was present at the ceremony for his number retirement at Dodger Stadium. He would die later that year from a heart attack.
Rachel Robinson has been a constant presence at ceremonies to honor her late husband ever since, including dozens at Dodger Stadium. One of her more notable public appearances over the past few years came when the Dodgers unveiled their statue of Jackie Robinson outside the stadium in 2017.
Every year on April 15, the anniversary of his debut, MLB celebrates “Jackie Robinson Day” and every player wears a nameless No. 42 uniform in that day’s scheduled games.
This season, the Dodgers adapted their uniforms for that day by using bolded numbers on the backs of their jerseys to resemble the ones Robinson wore in Brooklyn, as well as wearing throwback Brooklyn caps.