MLB Should Retire Clemente's #21 for Good
By Ismael Nunez
It is time for Major League Baseball to retire #21 in honor of one of baseball’s greats Roberto Clemente.
It’s up to you Commissioner. You are at bat.
The New York City Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Relations recently held a hearing on the resolution calling for Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Sleigh to retire # 21 in honor of Clemente, a Hall of Famer and a humanitarian.
Many grassroots activists and baseball fans have lobbied MLB to retire Clemente’s uniform number from all baseball teams. That’s an honor given only to one player: Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson.
That January day advocates made their presentations before the City Council, saying why they support retiring the number.
Two of them were judges from Connecticut: Carmen Lopez and Dale W. Radcliffe.
“We honor a young Latino from Carolina, Puerto Rico, who came north to play baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1950’s and confronted the dual minority status of race and language,” Radcliffe said. “We honor a superb athlete…often over-looked and underappreciated, yet who managed to transform anger and resentment into determination and reached the pinnacle of his profession.”
Radcliffe also spoke of the boricua’s accomplishments on the baseball field.
Lopez said it is about time that MLB retires the number.
“I believe that MLB, as a good corporate citizen, has a wonderful opportunity to showcase a superstar who lived by the principles of respect and service,” Lopez said.
This move, she said, would help a future generation know the legacy of Roberto Clemente.
And she spoke about Clemente’s heroic acts.
Clemente is not a hero, she said, because he played baseball with skill and pride. He’s a hero because he led a life of service to others. He even lost his life in an attempt to help others.
“These are the role models that our children and youth need,” she said.
William Gerena-Rochet, editor of Latinosports.com, spoke about how Clemente opened doors for future players.
“Clemente was not the first Latin American to play in the MLB,” he said. “He was the first Latino super star and began playing baseball when ML teams still had quotas on how many players of color they would have on their teams at a given time.
“Whereas Robinson is said to have opened the gate, Clemente can be said to have held it open for the Latino players who followed,” he said.
Bryon Hunter, producer of the documentary “The Legacy of 21,” said that almost ballplayer interviewed for the project agreed that #21 should be retired.
Julio Pabon, founder of Latino Sports, said Clemente deserves the honor because “he was more than just a great baseball player.
“The fact that he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously after his death without having to wait the five year period is a testament to his great ability as an athlete that still to this day is mentioned and compared when certain plays or throws are made from right field,” Pabon said.
The fact that Clemente was killed on December 31, 1972 in an airplane crash on his way to take badly needed supplies to earthquake Nicaragua victims was the ultimate sacrifice that any human being can make, Pabon said.
Ismael Nunez is a freelance writer based in El Barrio, NYC, who contributes his writings to Puerto Rico Sun.