It was about 30 years ago today that I sat down in the Oakland A’s clubhouse with center fielder Dave Henderson.
The subject of the day was Jackie Robinson.
Henderson was a good-humored soul who was a hit-and-miss interviewee. If he took the interview seriously, the reporter could come away with some good stuff. If he thought the questions were fluff, he might just blow it off, although not necessarily in a harsh way.
He was standing up near his locker when I asked about Robinson. Before answering, he took a seat and bade me sit in front of the adjacent locker to his.
I was looking for a story. Henderson was looking to open his soul, as much as he ever did to the media.
I don’t have the notes from that interview anymore, which is too bad, because Henderson, who died in 2015, passion about the subject was worthy of a broader audience.
What I most remember from that talk, one of the longest the two of us ever had, was Henderson saying that he learned about being an African-American growing up in California by studying two men – Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jackie Robinson.
Henderson had been a two-way football star at Dos Palos High, playing tailback and tight end on offense and safety on defense. And he wore the No. 42 because it was Robinson’s number with the Brooklyn Dodgers. There was a reason Henderson couldn’t wear No. 42 while playing baseball, and, sadly, I don’t remember what it was. He wore 22 instead.
He said that Robinson had gone through hell to make it possible for someone like Henderson to have a great life playing baseball. Wearing his number was the least Henderson could do. And whenever possible in a 14-year big league career, he wore 42. That included his entire six-year stop with the A’s.
When Commission Bud Selig announced in 1997, the 50 anniversary of Robinson’s April 15, 1947 MLB debut with the Dodgers that ended baseball’s color barrier, that Robinson’s No. 42 was being retired, Henderson had been retired for three years. The Yankees’ Marino Rivera was the last player to own 42, wearing it until his 2013 retirement.
That brings us to tomorrow, April 15, Jackie Robinson Day throughout baseball. Starting with a request from Ken Griffey Jr. in 2007, baseball has used April 15 to have all players wear 42 to honor Robinson. This year, there are no games to be played, so no 42s to dot the baseball landscape.
MLB is still going to do what it can to remember Robinson. According to the Commissioner’s Office, baseball will:
--Launch the Jackie Robinson Day Virtual Learning Hub, as part of the Jackie Robinson Foundation’s outreach. It will offer education programming for K-12 students. Among the features being offer are video vignettes of the Robinson family and baseball players like CC Sabathia and Harold Reynolds reaching excerpts of “Jackie Robinson: American Hero.” These can be found at JRLegacy.org.
--Offer virtual and printable Jackson Robinson educational activities aimed at younger children, including word searches, coloring pages and crossword puzzles. These can be found at mlb.com/42.
--Honor Robinson with hip-hop star DJ Envy doing a celebratory DJ set in Robinson’s honor from 4-6 p.m. (PT) on Instagram Live with MLB players and celebrity guests due to contribute.
--Have mlb.com streak 12 hours of Robinson-related content beginning at 4 a.m. (PT). Part of the package is the film of the 1955 World Series won by the Dodgers, which airs at 8 a.m. (PT). Also, on the agenda at 10 a.m. (PT) will be a showing of the 1997 Dodgers-Mets game at which Robinson’s number was retired league-wide.
--Have MLB network show Robinson-themed content, including a new episode of “Play Ball,” in which Ken Griffey Jr. talks about Robinson’s legacy as well as memorable games from past Jackie Robinson Days.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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