In his first year with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson won the 1947 MLB Rookie of the Year and it was off to the races from there. In 10 years with the Dodgers, No. 42 was a six-time All-Star and the National League MVP in 1949, which is the same year he won the batting title. He also led the league in stolen bases on two occasions and helped Brooklyn to a World Series title in 1955. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962.
Jackie Robinson was a true pioneer in the game and Major League Baseball has been adamant about preserving his place in history. In 1997, MLB retired the No. 42, not just from the Dodgers but from baseball as a whole. Those who were still wearing the number at the time could choose to continue wearing it, which some did, until their own retirement.
In 2004, then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig proclaimed April 15 as “Jackie Robinson Day”, a day to celebrate what the Hall of Famer had accomplished. In 2007, Ken Griffey Jr. asked for and was given permission to wear No. 42 on April 15 to honor Robinson. Since then, just about everyone has adopted the practice of wearing No. 42 on April 15 in tribute.
Jackie Robinson obviously wasn’t the only player to wear No. 42 in Major League Baseball. Here’s a look back at some other notable names that wore the famous number.
Mo Vaughn wore the No. 42 throughout his big-league career, which spanned from 1991-2003. He began his career with the Boston Red Sox and was a three-time All-Star and also won the 1995 American League MVP. He also won the Silver Slugger Award that season and led the league in runs batted in with 126. Vaughn signed with the Anaheim Angels and was at that time the highest-paid player in MLB. After missing the entire 2001 season due to injury, Vaughn played his final two seasons with the New York Mets. In 1,512 career games, Mo Vaughn hit .293 with 328 home runs and 1,064 runs batted in.
Ron Kittle was a bit of a late bloomer, not beginning his MLB career until he was almost 25, but he still managed to win the American League Rookie of the Year with the Chicago White Sox in 1983, hitting 35 home runs and driving in 100 runs. Kittle was also an All-Star that season. He had three different runs with the White Sox, always wearing No. 42, but also played for the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and Baltimore Orioles. Kittle wore No. 33 for the Yankees and Indians but still wore No. 42 for the Orioles. He finished his career in 1991 with 176 home runs and 460 runs batted in.
Hall of Fame pitcher Bruce Sutter wore No. 42 for the majority of his MLB career, only switching to No. 40 for a short time when he was with the Atlanta Braves. He began his career with the Chicago Cubs in 1976 and played five seasons in the Windy City, earning four All-Star selections as one of baseball’s best closers. He was traded to St. Louis ahead of the 1981 season and played four seasons with the Cardinals, earning two more All-Star nods and helping the Cards to a World Series title in 1982. He finished his career with the Atlanta Braves. Sutter ended his career with exactly 300 saves and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
In a 14-year MLB career, Dave Henderson wore No. 42 for a dozen of those seasons, only switching out when he was forced to do so. He began his career with the Seattle Mariners in 1981 and was a solid contributor when he was given the chance to play. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox during the 1986 season and helped them to the World Series, hitting a clutch ninth-inning home run in Game 5 of the ALCS to get Boston back in the series. After splitting time with the Red Sox and San Francisco Giants in 1987, Henderson went to the Oakland A’s in 1988 and appeared in three consecutive World Series, winning a title in 1989. He finished his career with the Kansas City Royals in the strike-shortened season of 1994. Dave Henderson once said that Jackie Robinson had gone through hell to allow players like himself to be in MLB and wearing No. 42 was the least he could do to honor him.
Mariano Rivera is easily the best player not named Jackie Robinson to wear No. 42 and some would argue that he’s the best to ever don the number. Rivera spent his entire 19-year career with the New York Yankees and was one of the players who continued to wear No. 42 after it was retired by MLB. There isn’t much that Rivera didn’t accomplish in his career. He retired in 2013 as the all-time leader in saves with 652 and is widely regarded as the greatest closer of all time. He was a 13-time MLB All-Star and won five World Series titles and won World Series MVP in 1999. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2019, earning 100% of the vote.