Year
1997
Month Day
April 15

MLB retires Jackie Robinson's number

On April 15, 1997, the 50 anniversary of his first Major League Baseball game, the league retires Jackie Robinson’s number, 42. Robinson, whose breaking of the “color barrier” in 1947 was a major moment in the history of racial integration in the United States, is the only player in MLB history to have his number retired across all teams, a sign of the reverence with which he is regarded decades after he led the charge to integrate the major leagues.

Before 1947, Major League Baseball was, like much of America, explicitly whites-only, with Black players competing in the entirely separate Negro American League. MLB executive Branch Rickey, who was charged with exploring the possibility of integration, scouted and chose Robinson to break the league’s color barrier both because of his talent and because he believed Robinson would be able to endure the racist abuse that would undoubtedly be hurled his way. Robinson did indeed face racist taunts from fans, abuse and rough play from his opponents, and even racist remarks from his own teammates during the 1947 season. Nonetheless, he proved that African American players could not only compete but could thrive in MLB, leading the league in stolen bases and winning National League Rookie of the Year. By the time of his retirement in 1956, Robinson had won the Most Valuable Player award, been named to six All-Star teams, and won the 1955 World Series, a list of accomplishments that would have made any player a likely candidate for the Hall of Fame. He was elected to the Hall of Fame as soon as he was eligible in 1962, and the Dodgers retired his number shortly before his death in 1972.

In a 1997 ceremony attended by Robinson’s widow and President Bill Clinton, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said, “Number 42 belongs to Jackie Robinson for the ages.” Certain players who wore the number at the time were permitted to do so for the remainder of their career—thus the New York Yankees’ Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera was the last-ever player to wear the number, playing his final game in 2013. Wayne Gretzky, whose domination of the National Hockey League earned him the nickname The Great One, is the only other player to have his number retired across every team in a major American sports league. Today, Robinson and the number he wore remain synonymous with the struggle to end segregation in American sports.

READ MORE: Jackie Robinson’s Battles for Equality On and Off the Baseball Field

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

On this day in history in 1947, Jackie Robinson, age 28, becomes the first African-American player in Major League Baseball when he steps onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to compete for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Jackie Robinson breaks color barrier

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson, age 28, becomes the first African American player in Major League Baseball when he steps onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to compete for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson broke the color barrier in a sport that had been segregated for more than 50 ...read more

Three people killed, hundreds injured in Boston Marathon bombing

On April 15, 2013, two bombs go off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three spectators and wounding more than 260 other people in attendance. Four days later, after an intense manhunt that shut down the Boston area, police captured one of the bombing suspects, ...read more

Titanic sinks

At 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, the British ocean liner Titanic sinks into the North Atlantic Ocean about 400 miles south of Newfoundland, Canada. The massive ship, which carried 2,200 passengers and crew, had struck an iceberg two and half hours before. WATCH: The Two-Part ...read more

President Lincoln dies

At 7:22 a.m., Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, dies from a bullet wound inflicted the night before by John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer. The president’s death came only six days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his ...read more

Pol Pot, leader of Cambodia’s genocidal government, dies in his sleep

Pol Pot, the architect of Cambodia’s killing fields, dies of apparently natural causes while serving a life sentence imposed against him by his own Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge, organized by Pol Pot in the Cambodian jungle in the 1960s, advocated a radical communist revolution ...read more

Bessie Smith is born in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Despite the immense influence her records had on the shape and course of American popular music in the 20th century, the recorded legacy of Bessie Smith only captures part of her historical significance. Yes, her first recording, “Downhearted Blues” (1923) sold a then-astonishing ...read more

The Sacco-Vanzetti case draws national attention

A paymaster and a security guard are killed during a mid-afternoon armed robbery of a shoe company in South Braintree, Massachusetts. Out of this rather unremarkable crime grew one of the most famous trials in American history and a landmark case in forensic crime detection. Both ...read more

Castro visits the United States

Four months after leading a successful revolution in Cuba, Fidel Castro visits the United States. The visit was marked by tensions between Castro and the American government. On January 1, 1959, Castro’s revolutionary forces overthrew the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. From ...read more