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Wearing Jackie's number a fitting tribute for Willie

For Willie Randolph, this is personal. When the Mets'

manager puts on his baseball jersey today, it will be with more pride than

usual, and that's saying something for the kid from Brooklyn who grew up a Mets

fan but first gained fame in his home city playing and coaching for the


"Just to wear the No. 42 on my back, I will feel his vibes," Randolph said

of Jackie Robinson while standing along the first-base line Wednesday night at

Shea Stadium. "There's going to be strong emotions for me that, hopefully, I'll

keep for life."

Randolph will be one of more than 200 players, coaches and managers

representing all 30 teams who will take part in today's commemoration of the

60th anniversary of Robinson's becoming the first black player in modern

major-league history.

The widespread wearing of No. 42 began with a simple phone call from Ken

Griffey Jr. to Bud Selig this month. The Cincinnati outfielder asked the

commissioner if he could wear Robinson's retired number on April 15. Soon after

Selig said yes, Griffey's leadoff gesture sparked an explosive chain reaction.

Nowhere was the sentiment to honor Robinson stronger than in the manager's

officer at Shea Stadium, where Randolph proudly displays pictures of the former

Brooklyn Dodgers star.

"Griffey brought up the idea and Major League Baseball ran with it. Any

time you're associated in any shape or form with the great Jackie Robinson,

it's the ultimate honor," Randolph said. "It's a great honor to him and it's a

great honor for me to wear his uniform. It's hard to describe in words what you

feel about Jackie. I know his wife, Rachel, real well. He's been an

inspiration to me since I was a little boy."

Randolph, 52, never saw Robinson play but said he formed a strong

attachment to him at a young age and drew inspiration from his story. "He was

someone that I immediately identified with. He was someone who was a role model

and someone I looked up to. He was someone who was very special who I could

aspire to be like," Randolph said. "Being from Brooklyn, I knew a little about

him, read some books about him. When I learned a lot about the man himself, you

just love what kind of human being he was. Not just on the field but off the


Wednesday was a chilly evening, but Randolph quickly warmed to his subject.

"For me, the initial attraction and respect was, 'Wow! Look at this man play.

Look at him run around the bases. Look what he's done. Look what he went

through.' And he was like me," Randolph said. "I was a middle infielder. I used

to emulate all the great players when I was a youngster and Jackie was my


Not all of today's major-leaguers have quite the same kinship with Robinson

that Randolph does, but many have been quick to volunteer to wear No. 42.

Entering the weekend, six teams (the Dodgers, of course, plus the Astros,

Brewers, Cardinals, Phillies and Pirates) planned to have all of their players

wear Robinson's number today. At least one player, coach or manager on every

other team will, too.

The Yankees' tribute includes Mariano Rivera, the only player who still

wears No. 42 every day. "I wear it with honor. I wear it with pride," Rivera

said. The peerless reliever was one of several players who was wearing No. 42

in 1997, when, during a moving 50th anniversary tribute to Robinson's breaking

baseball's color line, Selig proclaimed the number retired "in perpetuity."

Turns out that "in perpetuity" lasted only 10 years as Selig officially

"unretired" the number for today. Also wearing 42 for the Yankees in Oakland

will be Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Joe Torre. "We wouldn't be here if it

wasn't for him," said Cano, who is named for Robinson, his father Jose's

favorite player.

While a few players, such as Minnesota's Torii Hunter and Cleveland's C.C.

Sabathia, expressed concern that the growing number of players wearing No. 42

today "watered down" the tribute, Selig insisted otherwise. "I think it's

great," the commissioner said. "Just their understanding of history and what

that man did for so many people is so important. Believe me, it makes me very

happy. I think the players should wear it who want to wear it."

Randolph became a little proprietary about No. 42, naming himself as the

only Met to wear the number, even though Damion Easley and recently demoted

Lastings Milledge had expressed interest in doing so. "I'll be proud to wear

it. I never in my wildest dreams expected to be part of something like this,"

Randolph said. "It's going to be a special day for me. The attention Jackie is

getting and the respect that he's getting is great. People of all colors should

know who he is. Young players today coming up should know about him, that he

was very special, that he was a great man."


April 15, 2007: The 60th anniversary of his major-league debut

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