Fowler honored to flip jersey numbers on Jackie's Day

Cubs' outfielder swaps 24 for 42 as MLB pays tribute to Robinson's breaking of color barrier

Fowler honored to flip jersey numbers on Jackie's Day

CHICAGO -- Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler celebrates Jackie Robinson Day every day.

"I wear [No.] 24, so I always get to wear 42," said Fowler on Wednesday, when he wore No. 42 with the rest of Major League Baseball players to celebrate the anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier.

"What he's done for the game in breaking the color barrier, being able to stand up for what he stood for -- obviously, I wouldn't be playing if he wasn't here," Fowler said. "It's definitely an honor to wear [No. 42]."

For Billy Williams, the celebration of Jackie Robinson Day reminds him of his Hall of Fame speech, which happened the same year, 1987, that marked the 40th anniversary of Robinson's feat. Williams thanked Robinson during his induction speech, as well as then-Commissioner Happy Chandler, who was in Cooperstown.

"After I made my speech, and I turned around, [Chandler] grabbed me and shook my hand and hugged me," Williams said. "He said a lot of people talked about it but I was the only one who got it right."

In his speech, Williams, 76, recalled how he couldn't eat at a lunch counter in 1959 in Corpus Christi, Texas, and had to stay in private homes rather than the team hotels.

"I think most of you would agree at this time that wasn't right," Williams said in his speech.

How did Robinson endure despite the opposition?

"Jackie took the criticism, took the abuse, and stayed the course," Williams said. "[Branch Rickey] said, 'You're going to be called everything. People are going to try to hurt you and do different things. You've got to stand up and can't fight back.'

"I think Jackie, because he was educated, knew what was going on," Williams said. "He said, 'I can't fight back because a lot of people are depending on me.' ... When he came to the Major Leagues, he knew he had to make it for other guys to come."

The Cubs and Reds players, coaches and managers each wore No. 42 to honor Robinson on Wednesday. Each base used at Wrigley Field featured a commemorative Jackie Robinson Day base jewel. The bases and No. 42 jerseys will be available through Cubs Authentics to benefit Cubs Charities.

The pregame ceremony featured a video highlighting Robinson's career and legacy. The Cubs also presented the ninth-annual Jackie Robinson Most Valuable Diverse Business Partner Award, which recognizes business partners who exhibit and continue Robinson's legacy.

Cubs coach Lester Strode reflected on Robinson and how much he appreciated wearing No. 42.

"It's just an honor," Strode said. "There's a lot of changes that happened then and continue to happen today. It's just an honor to wear that number any time. It doesn't matter if it's today or tomorrow. I think every day is a blessing that he opened up a lot of gates for good things for minorities, and I'm not just talking about blacks, but minorities as a whole. I'm honored any time I get the chance to wear No. 42."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.