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42

TORONTO -- If you're coming here for the Jays-Tigers finale or watching a game on TV Sunday, take a moment to check out the uniform numbers. You're going to see a lot of No. 42s and not just on Mariano Rivera. There will be nearly 200 players wearing 42 as a tribute to the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Ken Griffey Jr. came up with the idea and it's quickly spread. At last report, the Dodgers, Astros, Phillies, Cardinals, Brewers and Pirates plan to have all players and coaches wear 42. Other notables planning the tribute include Barry Bonds, Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas, Derek Jeter, Andruw Jones, Dontrelle Willis and managers Willie Randolph, Joe Torre and Ron Washington. Cleveland center fielder Grady Sizemore, whose father is African-American, will also wear 42. Bud Selig retired 42 in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut and Rivera is the last active player wearing it (he was grandfathered).

Ten years ago, while writing about the 50th anniversary, I had a long phone interview with then-American Association President Branch Rickey III, whose grandfather was the legendary Dodgers GM who signed Robinson and broke the color line. I first asked him for a few minutes and apologized in advance, knowing he had done dozens of similar interviews that week. Rickey was unfazed.

"It's no problem at all," he said. "I love talking about my grandfather and especially this subject. It's so important. It's been an onslaught but a very, very welcome onslaught. It's been very time-consuming but it's a labor of love to me."

In 2007, as the game gropes with ways to induce more African-Americans away from the quick lure of NBA and NFL money, it's great to see players show appreciation for Robinson's journey.

---Mike Harrington

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