Technically, the Reds retired Jackie Robinson's number on March 10. That was the day they cut Roger Salkeld, an undistinguished pitcher whose new claim to immortality is that he was the final Cincinnati player to wear No. 42.
Commissioner Bud Selig's decree that all major-league teams are to take Robinson's number out of circulation has caught the home team in an embarrassing position.
It means that the first black player to have his number retired by the Reds was a Dodger. What had been an unfortunate oversight now becomes a glaring omission.
Joe Morgan and Frank Robinson, two of the three first-ballot Hall of Famers to spend the bulk of their careers with the Reds, have yet to receive the ballclub's ultimate honor. The gesture is so long overdue now that Morgan claims he's no longer interested.
This is regrettable, but it may yet be redressed. The Reds should observe the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut as an opportunity to break their own color barriers and to make peace with their past. They should add Morgan's No. 8 and Robinson's No. 20 to the list of retired numbers that so far includes only Fred Hutchinson's No. 1 and Johnny Bench's No. 5.
We have made this case before, to no avail, but the timing has never been better than right now. As baseball celebrates its role in the civil rights movement, Reds Managing Executive John Allen ought to be looking for an appropriate act that would recognize Jackie Robinson's legacy and help distance the club from the racist babblings of Marge Schott.
Deion Sanders' sleeves only go so far.
Uniform sleeves token tribute
In revising their road jerseys to accommodate Sanders' desire to honor Jackie Robinson, Reds management revealed a sensitivity and flexibility that has not always been the hallmark of this organization.
On April 4, 1974, before Hank Aaron struck his record-tying 714th home run at Riverfront Stadium, the Atlanta slugger asked if the Reds might observe a moment of silence to mark the anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination. Amazingly, Aaron's small request was swiftly rejected.
More recently, Schott's propensity for ethnic slurs and her history of discriminatory hiring practices have earned the Reds the reputation of baseball's most backward franchise.
In explaining the club's decision to adopt Deion-style jerseys last week, Reds General Manager Jim Bowden cited a desire to be seen as more progressive.
''It's important for this organization to respect Jackie Robinson,'' he said, ''after all we've been through the last four or five years.''
Morgan, 'Robby' deserving
Sending a few shirts out for alterations is a small step toward racial harmony. But if the Reds are to take a giant leap forward in this regard, they should consider something grander, something permanent. They should demonstrate that great ballplayers are revered in the birthplace of professional baseball, regardless of their race.
Excluding Pete Rose, whose No. 14 can not be formally retired unless his lifetime suspension is lifted (Prognosis: Doubtful), Joe Morgan and Frank Robinson are the Reds' most compelling candidates for mothballed jerseys.
Both men were two-time Most Valuable Players who led the Reds to the World Series. Both played for several teams, but were most productive in Cincinnati. Both were admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first try. Both are still around to smell the roses.
John Allen should study his schedule and select a weekend date in need of some additional drawing power. He should commission three additional jerseys for the outfield wall: one for Morgan, one for Frank Robinson, and a third for Jackie Robinson.
He should then announce that the Reds will donate a significant share of the gate receipts from the appointed game to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. If Morgan is still not persuaded to show up, then the fault no longer lies with the franchise.
The Reds have not always been an enlightened ballclub, but they ought to be allowed to atone for old errors this year.
If Jackie Robinson taught us anything, it was tolerance.