Like so many across the game of baseball, the number 42 is on my mind today.
Despite the digits having been permanently retired across Major League Baseball by declaration of Commissioner Bud Selig exactly 14 years ago in 1997, Friday, April 15 is an annual exception.
On this day, every player on the fields of the game from coast to coast wears the number in honor of Jackie Robinson. The man who first broke the color barrier in the modern era, becoming the first black Major Leaguer, joined the Brooklyn Dodgers on this day in 1947.
Already 28 years of age and a veteran of the Negro Leagues when he arrived in Brooklyn, Robinson was able to play in just ten major league seasons. He was a part of the Dodgers' magical 1955 World Championship club and appeared in six other World Series.
Robinson was the initial recipient of the Rookie of the Year Award and became the first black player to earn the Most Valuable Player Award, which he received in 1949. Robinson was named to six consecutive All-Star Games, from 1949 to 1954. He retired following the 1956 season, already feeling the effects of diabetes.
Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year eligible. His number 42 was retired by the Dodgers in 1972 just four months before his untimely passing at the age of 53.
MLB has opened a new website recognizing Robinson, iam42.com. Click on the faces of individuals to hear their stories of how Robinson inspired them.
As I type this, I am watching the telecast of an entire roster of Dodgers number 42s, as Robinson’s successors take on the St. Louis Cardinals in Los Angeles on Jackie Robinson Day.
Like Robinson, the Dodgers’ broadcaster is a Hall of Famer. Vin Scully has been covering their games for 62 years, having joined the club in Robinson’s fourth season in the Majors.
It is always magical to listen to the tales shared during a Scully broadcast, but it could be no more educational and enlightening than on April 15.
Another tie to the game unfolding before me is a pair of 42 references of a very different kind.
$42 is the amount I paid to acquire the services of Albert Pujols in National League Tout Wars this season. It also happens to be the number of home runs Pujols launched over outfield walls last season, tops in the National League.
I often assign the name of one of my players to characterize my season in the premier expert league. I had already decided this will be my season of Pujols. As he goes, so will I.
My Tout Wars competitors are most aware of the fact that I cover the Cardinals in my primary job, so the comments come fast and furious whenever I bid on a St. Louis player. Such was the case when I acquired the services of Albert for 2011.
Yet the fact remains that in Pujols’ first ten years in the Major Leagues, I had never acquired him in an auction draft, in Tout Wars or anywhere else, for that matter. Given I am a spread-the-wealth kind of fantasy player, Pujols had always been out of my price range.
This year was different as I felt there were enough low-priced outfield options available such that I could reallocate more of my budget to infielders. I didn’t plan to acquire Pujols, but when no one raised my $42 bid, I was satisfied to add him to my roster.
The move wasn’t without some built-in buyer’s remorse, though. After all, in this space not two months ago, I wondered aloud whether Pujols’ impending free agency might affect his play on the field, offering what I felt was a pretty sound line of reasoning.
Coming into Friday, Pujols was making me seem both wise (for the article) and stupid (for acquiring him anyway).
Through the first 13 games of the season, Pujols’ line was an anemic .226/.288/.358. He had just three extra base hits and led the world in grounding into double plays with seven. With three errors in the field already, Pujols is just one short of his miscue total for the entire 2010 season.
It is far, far too early to panic, but also impossible not to wonder if I should have taken my own advice and stayed away.
Then, in Friday’s fifth inning, Pujols blasted his fourth career Jackie Robinson Day home run, this one against Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen. Even though the rookie pitcher is also on my Tout roster, getting Pujols untracked takes precedence. Albert went deep again in the seventh, making this his 40th career multi-home run game. In the process, Pujols extended his hitting streak to five games.
With a still modest total of four home runs and 10 RBI to date this season, Pujols has a long way to go to justify that $42 expenditure.
For so many reasons, it still seems very possible.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 13-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC that season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com and weekly at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.