Poking around the internet as one does during these holiday weeks of light workloads, I came across an interesting tidbit about Mariano Rivera. We all know Mariano as the last player to wear 42, after it was retired in 1997 for Jackie Robinson. But that almost never happened because Reggie Jackson was going to wear 42 to honor Robinson, and even went as far as to have a 42 jersey presented at his 1976 introductory press conference.
Jackson had to look for a new number because his traditional 9 was worn by Craig Nettles, but luckily 42 was being held by Billy Martin for incoming pitching coach Art Fowler. Reggie went on to wear 20 for Frank Robinson, but changed to 44 during Spring Training for Hank Aaron and had that number retired in 1993.
If Reggie had told Billy Martin to kick rocks and taken 42, it wouldn’t have been available for Mariano. The number on his back wouldn’t have changed Mariano’s career, but there was something special about him being the last guy to wear the iconic 42.
PS: Maybe the whole number situation helped kick off the poor relationship between Billy and Reggie.
Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson were never going to get along.