NEW YORK — Former Major Leaguer Butch Huskey can’t wait to attend the Opening Day ceremony at Citi Field on Friday afternoon. That same day, the Mets — like every team in baseball — are celebrating the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League baseball. On-field personnel will wear uniform No. 42 that day.
“I’m not going to miss this,” Huskey said via telephone.
On April 15, 1997, an hour before the Dodgers played the Mets at Shea Stadium, Major League Baseball retired Robinson’s uniform No. 42. Huskey was one of a handful of players, including Mariano Rivera, who could choose to continue wearing the number until they retired. That same year, Huskey had the best season of his career, driving in a career-high 81 runs with a slugging percentage of .503, which ranked second on the Mets.
Huskey retired after the 2000 season, but he was not the last member of the Mets to wear uniform No. 42. Mo Vaughn wore the historic number in 2002 and ‘03.
“It was a great feeling [to get to continue] to wear that number,” Huskey said. “I also had [Robinson’s wife, Rachel] sign my jersey that I wore that day. I still have that jersey to this day. I’m ecstatic every year when I see everyone wearing No. 42. It puts a smile on my face. For the whole league to be wearing the jersey is amazing.”
Today, Huskey works for Goodyear Tire on the production side. He’s also a coach for a girls’ travel softball team in his Oklahoma hometown of Lawton.
Long before making his Major League debut with the Mets in 1993, Huskey was well aware of Robinson’s legacy from reading books about him in high school. While attending Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Huskey wrote a book report about Robinson. (He remembers receiving an A for the paper.) Huskey then promised himself that he would be in the big leagues one day, because of Robinson’s influence.
“If I ever made it in baseball, 42 would be my number,” Huskey said. “Reading books about him got the ball rolling. [My book report] was about Robinson being the first Black player to play in Major League Baseball. To me, that was an accomplishment in itself for him to go through what he went through — to be able to make it and play in the Major Leagues at a high level.”
Huskey reached the big leagues during the final three weeks of the 1993 season, when Bobby Bonilla was injured. Huskey was issued No. 10 when he arrived in Houston for his first series with the Mets. He had wanted No. 42, but the team said the uniform number wasn’t available. However, during Spring Training the following year, then-clubhouse manager Charlie Samuels gave Huskey uniform No. 42.
“I was ecstatic,” Huskey said. “At the time, it wasn’t a big deal with the league, but it was a big deal to me. For Samuels to let me choose my number like that was maybe even more special.”