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Yesterday, April 15th, was, as noticed on here, a day that has a significant amount of history to it. One thing left of that list, was that it was the day that Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. To honor Jackie’s influence in baseball, Major League Baseball retired his number, 42, several years ago and has proceeded to have its players wear number 42 every April 15th.

The only active player who gets to wear 42 every other day of the year is the incomparable Mariano Rivera. But, interestingly, the number 42 has a certain significance in baseball history.

I’m currently reading John Thorn’sBaseball In The Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game” and came across this passage (page 81):

As it has turned out, however, the lozenge-shaped field with its 153-foot base paths was confirmed as a chimera only recently, by a heretofore impossible reading of the remakrable 1852 rules. The only Eagle booklet of that year known to scholars had been stoen from the New York Public Library more than thirty-five years ago, so no one could say what the club’s preconsolidation playing rules were, that is, until another copy was revealed to reside (during the writing of this chapter!) in the Chicago History Museum. These rules specified base paths of forty-two paces equidistant between all bases.

Peculiar playing field or not, a schoolchild might wonder why there would be a common distance in two sets of rules independently arrived at, and why that distance should be forty-two paces rather than some other number. Is forty-two intended as a magic number multiple (as in, twenty-one is lucky because it is the product of three and seven, so forty-two must be doubly fortunate)? And that child might further ask, what was meant by a pace, anyhow?

So we have found that the first rules indicate base paths of 42 paces (pick up the book to learn how closely related the first dimensions of the baseball field were with Cricket’s field of play). And while reading this, I couldn’t help but think of the other great 42 – though not in baseball, but in literature.

In Douglas Adams‘ series, “The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” a central question arises to figure out what is the meaning of life, the universe, and, well, everything. A supercomputer, built solely to answer this ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything takes 7.5 million years to ascertain an answer, of which, it replies, is “42.” Of course, we find out, we don’t have the correct question – but I’ll leave it up to you read the books.

42 appears to be one of those numbers that keeps popping up in life: from science to religion to sports to math and most points in between, the number 42 repeatedly shows its influence. Take a look at Wikipedia’s entry for 42 and see how it matches up against another influential number: 7.

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


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