The reason every MLB player is wearing the same number today

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 15: Gleyber Torres #25 of the New York Yankees stands for the national anthem before the game against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium on April 15, 2023 in New York, New York. (Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Every year on April 15, Major League Baseball unites around a single player. 

Jackie Robinson became one of the most important players in the history of baseball – or any sport – on April 15, 1947, when he made his Major League debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke the color barrier.

It was a seismic moment, changing baseball forever. Robinson won Rookie of the Year that year, one of the earliest of many honors awarded to one of the most skilled and celebrated players in the sport's history.

But what does Jackie Robinson Day mean today? How does Major League Baseball recognize it every year? And how can people celebrate at home?

Read on for more. 

Jackie Robinson Day: Honoring Jackie’s Legacy with a number

According to the MLB, Jackie Robinson Day is when the League "honors Jackie's legacy by celebrating his life, values and accomplishments."

This takes several forms, but the most visible among them is one of the most moving: the widespread wearing of Robinson’s number, 42.

On April 15, everyone who wears an MLB uniform – that’s players, managers and coaches – wears number 42. That’s been true every year since 2009.

The idea was sparked by another baseball great: Ken Griffey Jr., who first wore the number to honor Robinson on April 15, 1997. 

That day, the MLB retired the number for all teams, meaning no player could wear it (though exceptions were made for those who were currently wearing the number). 

That was the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s debut. 10 years later, Griffey wanted to repeat the gesture, but as the number was then officially retired, he had to ask permission, first from Commissioner Bud Selig, then (via Selig) from Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s widow. 

Permission was granted, not just to Griffey, but to any player who wanted to join in. 

It was such an affecting demonstration that just a few years later, Selig made it an official part of Jackie Robinson Day. 

Jackie Robinson Day: How to celebrate at home

While folks at home may not able to stride onto an MLB diamond wearing an official jersey emblazoned with the historic number, they can still honor Robinson’s legacy.

Families with children may want to pay a visit to the Jackie Robinson Museum’s website, which contains a wealth of information and resources, including photographs, documents, videos, and other resources.

They also have trivia, word games, and other activities. 

If a movie night is more your speed, you’ve got options there too.

There’s "42," a 2013 movie starring the late Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as baseball executive Branch Rickey. 

It’s currently streaming on HBO Max and Apple TV+.

There’s also "The Jackie Robinson Story," a crowd-pleasing 1950 biopic in which Jackie Robinson is played by – wait for it – Jackie Robinson.

Robinson does an admirable job in the role, which you can see for yourself, as it’s streaming free on Tubi

PBS stalwart Ken Burns also made a four-hour, two-part documentary on the groundbreaking player. "Jackie Robinson" includes narration by Keith David and interviews with Barack Obama, among others. It’s available for purchase from online streaming retailers like Amazon, but can be watched for free through Hoopla, a digital library app.

This story was reported from Chicago.