This weekend, Twins CF Torri Hunter wrote a guest op-ed for the Pioneer Press about what it means to him to wear Jackie Robinson’s 42 and what it’s like being a black baseball player.
When I think of Jackie Robinson, I think of a strong black person. I think about everything he went through when he got to the major leagues.
There were the racial slurs. He heard them while he was playing the game and after the game.
And he couldn’t eat with his teammates – he had to go to the back of the restaurant to get his food, to get his plate, like a dog.
He had to be the last one to take a shower. He couldn’t shower with his teammates.
Everything was separate.
He could have quit. But he didn’t. He stuck with it.
Had he quit, I think that would have changed everything.
Not just baseball. But everything.
The course of history probably would have changed had he quit because he was the smartest of the Negro League players. This was a guy who went to UCLA and played four sports in college. He had an education. If he had quit – the guy who was supposed to be the strongest of the Negro League and the smartest of the Negro League – why go get the others?
They wouldn’t be able to handle it if he couldn’t handle it.
That’s why, when I think of Jackie Robinson, I think of a strong player, a strong black player.
My granddaddy used to talk about him all the time when I was younger. When I got into school, we’d have Black History Month, and we did little reports on Jackie Robinson or other famous black people like Martin Luther King. Jackie Robinson was up there with Martin Luther King. Every black kid I knew, he knew Jackie Robinson.
But in today’s school, in today’s world, if you ask a kid who Jackie Robinson is, he says “I’ve heard of him.”
You say, “What? That’s it?”
You say Hank Aaron, and they’ve never heard of him.
It’s amazing that these kids don’t know the history, and not just the history of baseball. History, period.
My son, Torii, has known about Jackie since he was about 5 years old. He’s 11 now. He actually did a report on Jackie Robinson, and he knew most of it already, but then there’s a lot of other stuff he didn’t know.
He didn’t know Jackie Robinson was a four-sport athlete. He’s like, “Wow.” He did that report this year in January. And it was pretty impressive.
I’ll wear Jackie Robinson’s number today. Ken Griffey Jr. started it. He told Commissioner Bud Selig that he would like Torii Hunter and certain guys to wear it … one person to represent each team. And that’s how I got it.
When someone from Major League Baseball called me, I had to think about it. I felt like I wasn’t worthy of wearing it. But I felt like, “That’s something bigger than me.”
I was honored to wear it. I really don’t think everybody understands and knows what it means to me, as a black American, as a black player.
Jackie Robinson was special, and I don’t think a lot of players know what they’re wearing his number for. I think some players are wearing it because the teams want them to wear it. I don’t think they know what’s behind the number.
You don’t have to be African-American to know what he went through. You’ve just got to be a smart person or a person who knows what pain is like.
For the past 10 years, I’ve been called the N-word, like, 20 times. Not in Minnesota. In Kansas City. In Boston.
I think Jackie Robinson went through a lot just for us to play this game. Had he not gone through that, we probably wouldn’t be playing this game. I probably wouldn’t be here today.
Rondell White was going to wear Jackie Robinson’s number, too, but he’s on the disabled list. And Jerry White will wear it. They represent Jackie Robinson, too.
What bugged me was that Houston doesn’t have a black player . . . and this might not be true at all, but, in my opinion, I feel like everybody (on the Astros) is wearing it because they don’t have a black player. A lot of teams are wearing it, and they barely have black players.
Now it’s becoming a racial thing. It’s not a racial thing.
It’s not a race thing for all black players to wear it. I think it’s a cover-up when you don’t have a black player on the team and you get everybody to wear it.
In my community – I’m from there (Texas), so I know what they’re talking about – they come to me with this. I’m telling you what they think, that some people aren’t worthy to wear that.
I’m not worthy to wear it, but a lot of people shouldn’t be wearing it. They don’t know what it’s for. They don’t know what he did, what he went through.
I’m going to wear it because I know what I’m wearing it for.
I’m not sure I agree with everything Hunter says. But it’s always good to see athletes doing something other than mouthing sports cliches (Just taking it one game at a time, gonna keep putting my work in and hopefully things will turn around, etc.).