© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

04/15/09 9:10 PM ET

Wearing No. 42 a 'privilege' to Rivera

Closer among Yankees proud to honor Robinson's memory

ST. PETERSBURG -- As the only player in Major League Baseball who still wears No. 42 every day, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is aware of the legacy he carries on his back game in and game out.

It's not just another uniform number. It's Jackie Robinson's uniform number, and Rivera is the lone remaining active player wearing No. 42 since it was retired throughout baseball in 1997.

"It's a privilege," Rivera said. "As a minority wearing the number, it's a privilege to do that."

Jackie Robinson Complete Coverage

On Wednesday, Rivera was more than happy to share the privilege with every player at Tropicana Field, Yankees and Rays alike, as well as every other player and coach in the game.

It was baseball's way of celebrating Jackie Robinson Day, a gesture to honor the man who broke baseball's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

"It's a special day," Rivera said. "It's a special day because of what he did. Everybody should wear it, [all of] Major League Baseball."

More than 330 players and staff members wore No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day last year. This year, Commissioner Bud Selig requested that all on-field personnel wear the number on Wednesday.

Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia is one of many players in past seasons who received permission from MLB to honor Robinson's achievement by wearing No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day. Sabathia, who is African-American, said his grandfather's favorite team was the Dodgers because of Robinson.

"[Robinson] had to be a strong person to not only put up the numbers and play well, but to put up with everything else that went along with playing in that time and being in this country at that time," Sabathia said. "He was a special person, so I think it's only right that we recognize him and everybody wears his uniform number."

Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon said he would like to have seen everyone wear No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day all along -- "because of what Jackie Robinson meant to not only baseball, but the American culture," Damon said. "Who knows where we would be without him? We still wouldn't have a black president, probably.

"We wouldn't have the amount of rights we have for so many people. He was definitely the perfect person to break the color barrier in baseball."

While the No. 42 is memorialized on stadium banners throughout the game, the Yankees are the only group of players who have a daily reminder of Robinson's legacy walking among them in the form of Rivera's uniform number.

And that's something none of them takes for granted.

"With [Rivera] wearing No. 42, you know he's a pretty good player, because he's been around a long time," Damon said. "And Mo's a future Hall of Famer, so it's somewhat fitting that he's the only one left."

Carter Gaddis is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.