"I've been on teams that won the World Series, I've been on great teams, but nothing matches the magnitude of wearing the jersey out there today," said Cliff Floyd, one of the four Cubs players to wear 42. "Having his number on my back, it's an honor."
Floyd, Derrek Lee, Jacque Jones and Daryle Ward, and Cubs coaches Lester Strode and Gerald Perry wore the number in honor of Jackie Robinson Day, marking the 60th anniversary of the Hall of Famer breaking the color barrier in the Major Leagues. The gesture, originally proposed by Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr., who also took part in pregame ceremonies at Wrigley on Sunday, was duplicated by players and teams throughout all of baseball.
Robinson first introduced himself to Wrigley Field on May 18, 1947. That day, 46,572 people paid to see Robinson play in a game between Brooklyn and Chicago, a number that still ranks as the all-time highest paid attendance for a Cubs game in the stadium's history.
"Jackie Robinson did a lot for the game of baseball, and it's great that he's being remembered and honored on this special day," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "And it's wonderful to see players wear his uniform number."
Not only was Floyd honored to wear 42, but he recognized the hardships that Robinson endured during his years as a player.
"I can't imagine what he went through, in terms of how hard it was for him to just put on a uniform every day," Floyd said. "We sometimes abuse this privilege. I don't think he abused it."
The six Cubs who chose to wear No. 42 also wore their blue socks high as another tribute to Robinson's playing days. In addition, all of the players sported a Jackie Robinson Day decal on their batting helmets.
Introduced in 2004, Jackie Robinson Day honors the enduring impact of Robinson and his legacy as the first African American player to break the Major League Baseball 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, Robinson's uniform No. 42 was retired throughout the Major Leagues.
His memory lives on today in initiatives such as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was founded by his widow, Rachel Robinson, in 1973 to provide education and leadership development opportunities for minority students with strong capabilities but limited financial resources. Another initiative Robinson inspired is 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.
Jeffrey Rickey Jones, grandson of Branch Rickey, who signed Robinson to his first contract with the Dodgers, also took part in the pregame ceremonies at Wrigley.
"The greatest thing about Jackie Robinson was that he was a gentleman and fiercely competitive, as was my grandfather," Jeffrey Jones said. "It's hard for us to imagine what it was like in 1947 growing up today, because the playing field is all level -- black, white, men, women. Back then, if you see films or remember, it was very different.
"I think Jackie Robinson is one of those few people who made a great difference in how our country is today," Jeffrey Jones said.
Lee shared that view of Robinson, calling the former Dodger "an American hero." When asked how to teach younger generations about Robinson, Lee said today's baseball players should try to emulate the legend.
"I think the best way to do that is try to carry yourself the way he did," Lee said. "Play the game the right way, treat the game with respect, [and] make it better for the person coming behind you."
The All-Star first baseman said it was a humbling experience to see No. 42 in his locker before the game today.
"I don't take it lightly," Lee said. "It's exciting to wear his number. It might be the only time I get to wear it."
After the game, which the Reds won, 1-0, Jacque Jones was asked what it meant for him to be able to wear Robinson's number for a day.
"It meant a lot," Jones said. "I felt privileged, and it was an honor to give back to his family and pay tribute to the things that he did in this game to have us be where we are today. I was proud to wear it."
Major League Baseball planned to auction off all the game-worn No. 42 jerseys, with the money going to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. After hearing this, Ward ordered another jersey for himself, and has the ambitious goal of getting every player throughout the Major Leagues who wore Robinson's number on Sunday to sign it. The other Cubs also planned on ordering additional jerseys. They wanted a souvenir of the day.
"I feel it's an honor to wear his jersey," Strode said. "He's opened a lot of doors for many people, not just black, but all cultures. Today, to represent him on the field, you get the jitters a little bit. I look at my own career and he's helped me. He's paved the way for me. Win, lose or draw, it's a great day."
Marc Zarefsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less