Why is Jackie Robinson's name and number displayed on the upper deck of PNC Park with the names of famous Pirate players, when Robinson never played for the Pirates? | You Had to Ask | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Why is Jackie Robinson's name and number displayed on the upper deck of PNC Park with the names of famous Pirate players, when Robinson never played for the Pirates?

Question submitted by: Ed Gerstenhaber, Murrysville

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Hey, stranger things have happened. Derek "Operation Shutdown" Bell never really played for the Pirates either, and they displayed his name and number on first base.  More incredibly still, Bell was actually wearing them at the time!

 

 

If you've looked around PNC Park, you may have noticed that all the other names have something in common besides being famous Pirates. Each of those players was so exemplary that his number was retired; no Pirates player down on the field can use that number again. According to the Pirates, those numbers, and the player they belonged to, are:

[[bullets for asterisks that folo]]

 

* Billy Meyer, No. 1, who coached the team for five seasons starting in 1948. While Meyer was named baseball's "manager of the year" in his first year with the Pirates, his career record with the team was an uninspiring 317-452. But he was a beloved figure and besides, it's important for current manager Lloyd McClendon to have realistic goals.

 

* Ralph Kiner, No. 4, who either won or shared the National League home-run title in each of the seven years he played for Pittsburgh between 1946 and 1952.

 

* Willie Stargell, No. 8, who had 465 home runs and 1,540 RBIs and played with the team for 21 seasons. (To put that number in perspective, it's almost twice as long as the number of years since the Pirates had a winning season.)

 

* Bill Mazeroski, No. 9, was an eight-time Golden Glove winner. Plus, he had a hit in 1960 you might have heard about.

 

* Pie Traynor, No. 20, distinguished himself as one of the game's finest third-basemen during a 17-year career with the Pirates.

 

* Roberto Clemente, No. 21, and Honus Wagner, No. 33, were both ... well, if you don't know who these guys are by now, I'm not sure there's any point in telling you here. I will tell you, though, that Danny Murtaugh, No. 40, coached the team for 15 seasons over a 19-year period. In that time, he led the Pirates to more than 1,100 victories, including two World Series and four division championships.

 

So where does that leave Jack Roosevelt Robinson, who never wore a Pirates uniform in the first place? Turns out that his number, 42, has been retired from the Pirates roster as well, even though he never played for them.

 

Robinson, as you surely know, became the first black player in the modern major leagues when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. And despite the bigotry he encountered both on and off the field, he led the Dodgers to six National League pennants and one World Series victory in the ensuing 10 seasons. He was Rookie of the Year in 1947, and an all-star six times after that. He also became the first black player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, meaning he integrated two American sports institutions.

 

So in 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson's first season in the majors, the panjandrums of Major League Baseball decided to retire Robinson's number -- for every team playing major-league baseball. Plus the Pirates. No matter what logo is on the front of the uniform, no ballplayer will ever have a 42 on his back again.

 

As a result, the Pirates, like other teams, thus display Robinson's name and number alongside their own greats, and celebrate a Jackie Robinson Day each year. Which makes sense, if you think about it: If the shame of baseball's segregated past belongs to every team, so too should a small share of the pride baseball takes in Robinson's achievements.

 

But if Robinson's achievements are part of all of us, the honor given to him is all his own. As Major League Baseball points out in an official encomium honoring Robinson, "No one else has had that honor -- not Babe Ruth, not [Willie Mays], not [Hank] Aaron." And if even the thought of Jackie Robinson isn't enough to brighten your day at a Pirates game, just think of it this way: Barry Bonds won't be getting that honor either.

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