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What It Means

It was announced yesterday that Carl Crawford will wear number 42 to honor Jackie Robinson on his day, April 15th. I passed this along as if it was a minor tidbit, but thinking about it something just feels right about the Rays and Jackie Robinson.

10 years have passed since the dawning of this franchise, two numbers have been retired. 12 for Wade Boggs, though it's quite debatable whether his achievements as a Ray shouldn't even be noted other than his 3,000th hit and the revolution around the sun he spent as hitting coach. Perhaps I'm bitter that he is and will always will be a Red Sock in nearly everyone's mind, or that he played for the Yankees, Sox, and Rays, a feat that hasn't been accomplished since. Boggs' name and number being immortalized in Rays' history reeks of a lifetime achievement award, to me that's what the Hall of Fame gives out, not the franchise that saw him play in 213 games.

The other number is universally retired throughout baseball, 42. No explanation is needed as to why the number is retired, no debate as to should, and no questions on whom. There are few numbers that everyone knows in sports, 23 in basketball, 16 and 34 in football, 99 in hockey, but baseball seems to hold more of these special numerals, 3, 4, 5 9, and 42.

It takes some time in life to realize really what 42 symbolizes, more than freedom, less than absolute sovereignty. It became more than just and identifying indicator of players, it changed the game completely, it changed the country, dare say it changed the world in some regards. But yes, it changed the game, so why is that something about Jackie Robinson, who died before the Rays were ever born, and this franchise, no; this year's team makes it feel `right'?

Look around baseball; explore the outfield of all 30 teams, upon doing so I challenge you to find a starting outfield consisting of three American born players of African descent. Upon doing so you will find exactly one, our own. Other teams come close, on days the Tigers field Monroe, Granderson, and Sheffield over Ordonez, the Giants are close as well though Dave Roberts is of Asian descent, the Rays are the only team that look to consistently field three African American players in their outfield.

Does the team deserve a medal? Of course not, and I'm not making the Rays into some saints of equality, they're doing nothing more than attempting to win and it just so happens that the best combination of outfielders contains players of what's becoming a rare ethnicity in professional baseball. Only 8.4 percent of all Major League players are African American, more than a ten percent decrease since 1995; of the Rays' 25 man roster 16 percent are.

To make the scope even narrower, it's Carl Crawford and 42 that fits. We all know the stories of the `Three AmEgos', with Delmon Young calling out the parsimonious nature of the old regime and his bat flipping incident, Elijah Dukes multiple arrests and suspensions, and B.J. Upton's DUI, but throughout it all Crawford has remained a model citizen and ballplayer. Crawford is a man consisting of his natural humbleness, his maintained reservation, and on the field a constant hustler, who has the aura of something special, even if the national scene hasn't realized it yet.

If those attributes don't make Crawford rare enough, add in the fact that he chose baseball over playing point guard for UCLA and quarterbacking the Nebraska Cornhuskers and their option offense. An African American choosing baseball over basketball and football is as rare as it comes in today's world, where only 6 percent of the youth say baseball is their favorite sport.

Crawford and Robinson aren't as similar as you'd think for me to draw a comparison, though one of Robinson's more memorable game actions included stealing home, something we say Crawford execute to perfection last season. Off the field both are role models for youth of all ethnicities and backgrounds. One set the trail; stamping out the rocky track, ridding the majority of barbs awaiting to slash the unknowing explorer, meanwhile the other has blazed the trail from base to base many times in his brief career, not having to deal with the barbs as often.

Considering what Robinson, Bob Gibson, Satchel Paige, Frank Robinson even went through to set the stage for the African American ball player this is concerning and is an issue baseball must address within the next decade, otherwise risk the chance of running the percentages lower to the point of considerably endangered that will inevitably lead to the extinction of the African American ball player.

Widespread pundits blame the sport, and more accurately the league for not promoting itself to the inner city culture as well as the NBA and NFL do, perhaps this is true, I won't say that; however I will say that if they need a poster child, who's images they flash around all the nation, who's story they rehash until we know it by heart then I say we have him right here in St. Petersburg, and he wears the number 13, over his 42.