42: Just a number until Jackie Robinson wore it

Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers poses at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, N.Y., April 11, 1947.
AP Photo/John Rooney

(CBS News) Today, in every major league ball park across America, every player will be wearing number 42 - Jackie Robinson's number.

Because today marks the 65th anniversary of the day that Jackie Robinson stepped out of the Brooklyn Dodgers dugout and became the first African American to play in baseball's major leagues.

They called it America's game, but until Robinson came along, only some Americans got to play at the top level.

A Brooklyn baseball executive named Branch Rickey changed that because he thought it would be good for the game.

He knew there would be fierce opposition, so he picked Robinson to break the color line - not because he was the best player in the old Negro League (he probably wasn't), but because he thought Robinson had the character and the courage to withstand the hatred the first black player was sure to face on and off the field.

And he was right. Some of Robinson's own teammates refused to play alongside him, and opponents were unmerciful.

But Branch Rickey was as good at judging character as he was at judging baseball talent. Robinson endured the hazing silently, and went on to be the National League's Rookie of the Year.

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It was good for the game, as Branch Rickey had hoped, but more than that, opening sports to all Americans made us a stronger and a better country.

Looking back, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig called it baseball's finest moment.

Let us never forget why 42 was just a number until Jackie Robinson wore it.

Forty two - Jackie Robinson's number.

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    Bob Schieffer is a CBS News political contributor and former anchor of "Face The Nation," which he moderated for 24 years before retiring in 2015.