Crawford honored to wear No. 42

Crawford honored to wear No. 42

MINNEAPOLIS -- Carl Crawford was honored and flattered to pull on uniform No. 42 Sunday as his team's representative to honor the late Jackie Robinson.

While he tributes the first black man to break into an all-white Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers 60 years ago, Crawford also feels a bit of embarrassment about what he sees as a lack of knowledge about Robinson's impact among all young people -- including African-Americans.

"When I was growing up in Houston, I'd heard about Jackie Robinson, but I didn't know much about him," said Crawford, a 25-year-old left fielder with blinding speed and the capability of being a big-play catalyst for the youthful Devil Rays.

"I'm embarrassed that I don't know more about him. I've only seen one video about him, but even though everybody had heard of Jackie Robinson, nobody talked about him much when I was a kid. Now I realize he's up there with Martin Luther King, only from a sports standpoint."

Introduced in 2004, Jackie Robinson Day was created to honor the enduring impact of Robinson's legacy as the first African-American player to break the Major League color barrier. Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Robinson breaking the Major League color barrier in 1997, Robinson's uniform No. 42 was retired throughout the Major Leagues.

Robinson's memory lives on today in initiatives such as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was founded by his wife, Rachel Robinson, in 1973 to provide education and leadership development opportunities for minority students with strong capabilities but limited financial resources, as well as Breaking Barriers, which utilizes baseball-themed activities to reinforce literacy skills, mathematics, science and social history while addressing critical issues of character development such as conflict resolution and self-esteem.

The tribute for the 60th anniversary of Robinson's debut is for various players to wear the long-retired No. 42 that Robinson wore as such a classy, but aggressive, dynamo for the Dodgers.

"When I was first contacted last week, while we were playing in Texas, I was, like, 'Are you sure?'" Crawford said. "I mean, that is like a sacred number."

Crawford said the inspiration he feels from wearing Robinson's number is something he hopes can also inspire young African-Americans to play baseball.

"When I was a kid, I played in an all-black Little League in Houston," Crawford said. "That's gone, now, because I'm sure it was expensive. But it helped little kids learn and like baseball. Now there aren't nearly as many kids playing baseball, and it's not good that the numbers are going down. Kids go more to football and basketball now. I played all three sports, and it wasn't like baseball was my first love; I loved all of them.

"Little kids love to be active, and it's easy to get in trouble if you're not active."

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said he's not surprised that Crawford hadn't learned much about Robinson.

"I don't think a lot of young people know about Jackie Robinson," Maddon said. "I think it's wonderful to do this as a tribute to him, because in this country, it seems we lack a lot of traditional things, so we need something like this to make people interested in learning more about our history.

"What Jackie Robinson did was one of the most courageous things anybody has done in the last century, to withstand all that he went through, and still perform as well as he did. I like the idea of one player on each team wearing the number, and Carl is a good choice on our team.

"Carl is still a young man himself, and he will eventually grow into the sort of role model. But nobody can be ordained to be a leader. You've got to earn the respect of your teammates for what you are and what you do."

Crawford's speed and aggressiveness -- such as when he sped around the bases in a 14.12-second sprint for an inside-the-park home run in Tampa Bay's 4-2 victory over the Twins on Friday -- are skills that Robinson would have admired.

John Gilbert is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.