It just doesn’t look right.
There’s something about the No. 42 on a baseball uniform that will always seem out of place.
But there’s still a place for the number that has been retired across MLB, minor league baseball and UCLA Athletics: college baseball.
The MLB retired the number in 1997 to honor the legacy of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier 50 years prior. UCLA made a similar move in 2014, retiring the number across all of its sports to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Robinson becoming a Bruin.
But on college baseball fields outside of Westwood, it’s popular. And that’s a problem. Five Pac-12 players wear it on their jerseys.
Kacy Clemens, the son of seven-time Cy Young Award-winner Roger Clemens and an eighth-round pick in the MLB Draft, wore it during his three years for the University of Texas. He homered in UCLA’s second-to-last game of the season.
When asked about his decision to wear it, he said nothing about Robinson. Clemens said he initially wanted to wear his father’s No. 21, but couldn’t because the Longhorns had retired his number. So he picked the number that almost all of baseball retired instead.
“I actually was the last freshman to get to pick their jersey – there were like four or five jerseys left,” Clemens said. “I picked 42 because my brother wore it in high school football. It was just a family number, and I’ve kind of turned it into my favorite number now.”
But the problem isn’t that Clemens picked the jersey out of the few that remained. The jersey shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
The NCAA needs to join the rest of baseball in honoring Robinson’s legacy and stop allowing baseball players to wear the No. 42.
Robinson taking the field in 1947 was a crucial moment for the game, and an even bigger moment for the country. The military was desegregated the following year, and Brown v. Board of Education reached the Supreme Court less than a decade later.
These players are university students. By virtue of their status as student-athletes, they take on the responsibility of awareness of the social context surrounding their actions.
But allowing players on the roster to wear No. 42 communicates the exact opposite.
It makes college baseball look like an aloof part of the game that isn’t cognizant of its history of segregation.
Considering there was only one black player in uniform at the College World Series this year – and he didn’t play – maybe that’s all college baseball is.