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Another honor for baseball’s No. 42

Yankees legend Mariano Rivera and Jackie Robinson represent unique legacies

On Jan. 22, Mariano Rivera was voted unanimously into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was the first player to get a unanimous nod from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

But he was not alone in being voted in this year. Starting right-handed pitchers Roy Halladay (Toronto/Philadelphia) and Mike Mussina (Baltimore/New York Yankees) were added too. So was Edgar Martinez, primarily a designated hitter. He batted right-handed and played in Seattle.

I imagined two other men smiling. The first was Robert Leo (Bob) Sheppard, the longtime public address announcer at Yankee Stadium. The other was Jack Roosevelt (Jackie) Robinson, the Hall of Fame infielder whose life and legacy will be celebrated Thursday, the 100th anniversary of his birth. He died in 1972.

Before his death in 2010, Sheppard spent decades introducing sportspeople at Yankee Stadium, including Rivera, who retired in 2013:

“… Mariano Rivera, No. 42; Mariano Rivera, No. 42. …”

Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947 with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers, had played for the Kansas City Monarchs and introduced American baseball fans to the hard work, daring and style of Negro Leagues baseball.

The two Hall of Famers have been joined by Jackie’s No. 42. In 1997, Jackie’s number was retired leaguewide, the first time a player had been so honored in any of the country’s major professional team sports.

On April 15, Jackie Robinson Day and the 72nd anniversary of Jackie’s crossing the modern color line, his jersey number will be worn by all current, on-field MLB players.

Rivera, an exception, wore No. 42 until he retired in 2013. The Yanks retired his number that year.

And now Rivera, a native of Panama and a 13-time All-Star, will be joining Robinson, from Georgia and then California, in the Hall of Fame.

In 1949, Robinson won his only National League MVP award. He led the league in batting average and stolen bases. He led his team to the pennant. Fifty years later, Rivera was voted MVP of the 1999 World Series.

Rivera spent his entire 19-year career with the Yankees. Robinson, who retired in 1956, opposed the Yankees his entire career, all with the Dodgers. The Yankees were in the midst of winning five consecutive World Series championships when Robinson was named MVP; Rivera was named World Series MVP during a period when the Yankees won four World Series crowns in five years.

Both men ennobled No. 42. Both men are winners for the ages.

With a record 652 regular-season saves, Rivera stands as Major League Baseball’s greatest closer. Robinson’s victories defy category.

A graduate of Hampton University, Jeff Rivers worked for Ebony, HBO and three daily newspapers, winning multiple awards for his columns. Jeff and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children, a son Marc and a daughter Lauren.